The Vancouver Giants have been one of the WHL’s hottest teams as of late, riding a six-game win streak going into their mid-week clash with the Red Deer Rebels on Wednesday.
There have been many reasons for the team’s success recently.
One of the major reasons has been the team’s power play that has been producing at just over 40% in the last dozen or so outings.
The other has been the production of their depth guys.
Players like Holden Katzalay have been playing their best hockey in a Giants uniform during the team’s latest run.
He is riding a three-game goal streak that includes a three-point effort in the 12-4 win over Tri-City last week and was given a vote of confidence from coach Michael Dyck with ice time, clearly making the most of it.
Ever since, the six-foot-four, 192-pound centre has played with an extra level of confidence and it shows on the score sheet.
“Finding a bit of confidence after I scored that first one (against Kelowna),” he said when asked what has attributed to his success. “I had a decent game against Tri-City so just been trying to build on that and it’s been working out.”
Katzalay scored his first WHL goal in Kelowna on January 4th, just over a month into his second stint in the league.
Back in 2017-18, the Vancouver native skated in 59 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds as a 17-year-old, recording two assists.
An opportunity was lacking on a Thunderbirds team that had Donovan Neuls, Noah Philp, and Matthew Wedman ahead of him on the centre depth chart.
“Mainly just a confidence thing, just building that up in the BCHL. I didn’t play much when I was there (Seattle) so it was difficult to build,” he said about why his second go around in the WHL has been more successful.
After that one season in Seattle, Katzalay got to ply his trade down in the BCHL with the Surrey Eagles where he was given a bigger role to show his offensive talent.
His lone full season (2018-19) with the Eagles saw him score 30 points (14G, 16A) in 52 games before breaking out to start the current 2019-20 season.
His 33 points (16G, 17A) in just 28 games caught the eye of Giants brass enough to award the big forward a three-game tryout to see how his game could translate back in the Western Hockey League.
He did not look out of place in those three games near the end of November, though in a fairly limited role.
Enough to earn his way back to the top junior league full-time.
“They said they needed a guy to help with depth and they thought I could do that,” Katzalay said about joining the Giants on a permanent basis after his tryout. “I thought I was doing alright in the BCHL so hopefully I can translate that to here.”
Transitioning from Junior A to Major Junior is a fairly big step, especially when the player’s role is also shifting.
Of course, in Surrey, Katzalay was leaned on to provide constant offence.
With the Giants, he has been in a depth role for the most part which can be difficult shift from being a scorer. “It takes a bit of adjusting, but I think I did okay and can still score some goals here too,” he said.
Though both good levels of hockey, Major Junior is is the premier stage for teenage hockey players.
The speed is different and so is the style of play, according to Katzalay. “There’s definitely a lot less time. You have to make plays a lot quicker because guys are on you faster and it’s a bigger league too so a lot more physical. But I’m getting used to it now.”
In 27 games with Vancouver so far, he is up to nine points (5G, 4A) with five of those points coming in the last three games.
“He was putting up big numbers in Junior A. Now there’s a big difference (between) Junior A and this league but you certainly would hope so (he would continue to produce). He’s big and has great hands. He’s definitely taken a step,” said coach Michael Dyck about his third-line centre’s ability to create offence in the WHL.
Fellow mid-season signing Michal Kvasnica has been playing on a line with Katzalay, and the two have fed well off of each other as of late.
Kvasnica has seven points in his last six games after having that same amount in his first 20 games of the season.
Looking a bit at the off-ice side of joining a team mid-season, it can be difficult coming into a room where bonds are already created among players.
It does make it substantially easier when guys are as accommodating as this Giants roster seems to be.
“They’ve been great, everyone took me in. They’re really nice guys, so it hasn’t been difficult because it’s a great group,” Katzalay said of his new teammates.
He said the only guy he knew coming to the team was Jackson Shepard, who is also in his first season with the team.
The two played minor hockey together, and Katzalay credited Shepard with helping him get accustomed to everything early on.
Odds are the Giants will be playing in the WHL postseason for the third season in a row if their recent play is any indication of how their second half is going to play out.
With fewer than 20 games left in the regular season, each one becomes more crucial than the last.
For the Giants to have continued success into the playoffs, they will continue to need help all around — something Holden Katzalay expects himself to do as the season winds down.
“Help the team as much as I can and go far in playoffs, do what I can do.”