VANCOUVER - With his team mired in the WHL cellar, Vancouver Giants head coach Don Hay still hopes to grin and bear it Friday at the Pacific Coliseum.
He wants to duck for cover early in the first period against the Prince George Cougars. It's the kind of stuff he likes to see on Teddy Bear Toss Night, the annual event that sees thousands of fans send thousands of toys to the ice for charity.
The trigger, of course, is the Giants' first goal of the game.
Last year, the contest drew 12,103 fans and they didn't have to wait long as defenceman Brett Kulak scored at 2:54 of the first period against the Portland Winterhawks. As an added bonus, the Giants also won 5-3.
“I think it's a really enjoyable night,” Hay said Thursday. “I mean, it's exciting for the fans and exciting for the players, especially for the guy who scores the goal. When those teddy bears come down, it's really neat. It's like a blizzard, or getting caught in a snowstorm. As coaches, you have to get tight to the glass so you don't get hit.”
Hay hasn't had many reasons to smile lately considering the G-Men's 8-23-0-0 record but he allowed himself one as he recalled various Teddy Bear Tosses, both home and away.
“I've been in all situations,” he chuckled. “I've seen it happen early in the game, I've seen it in overtime and I've seen it happen on a penalty shot. I remember one time in Portland they scored in overtime so the game ended and we had to walk off through the teddy bears.
“The longer it goes, the more anxious the fans get. They want to get rid of those teddy bears early and get them on the ice. As for the interruption, if we score early, it's a good interruption to have.”
Kulak has 14 goals in the Western Hockey League and his Teddy Bear tally last season is one he hasn't forgottten.
“It was a 4-on-4 and I kind of pinched in and had an opening in the high slot,” he said. “Cain Franson made a tremendous pass to me and I was wide open. I did a little celebration and then I looked up and saw all the teddies flying down. It was really exciting and a cool feeling. It's obviously a change from just a normal goal.”
The Giants would clearly like more than one goal against the Cougars in their final home game before Christmas. Hay's skaters have scored just three times in their last three outings, all losses.
Both teams will then hop aboard their respective buses and head north to Prince George where they'll meet again Saturday and Sunday. The Giants trail the Cougars by eight points in the B.C. Division.
“It would be nice to catch up to them a little bit,” Kulak said. “Even as exciting as the Teddy Bear goal is, we should be thinking about the two points first.”
Rookie goalie Payton Lee, 16, is scheduled to start Friday and it will be his last appearance at the Coliseum until at least Jan. 12. Following the Christmas break, he'll be joining Team Pacific for the World Under-17 Challenge in Quebec. He won't rejoin the G-Men until Jan. 5 when they will be in the midst of a five-game Alberta road trip.
Forward Thomas Foster is also on Team Pacific, which is comprised of players from B.C. and Alberta, while defenceman Reid Zalitach, a Winnipeg native, has been named to Team West.
For Lee, it will be his first taste of international competition. Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and the U.S. are all entered in the tournament.
“I'm really excited for that opportunity, it's the first sort of step internationally,” said Lee, a Cranbrook native. “But I have to focus on the three games this weekend first and then I'll start thinking about it. Once I get to Quebec, I want to do well and make a good impression.”
G-NOTES: Two of the Giants' best 17-year-olds, right winger Jackson Houck and defenceman Mason Geertsen, were passed over earlier this week for the Top Prospects game... Centre Anthony Ast remains sidelined with what Hay said is a bad case of flu.
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