The Vancouver Giants were expected to be major contenders in the B.C. Division this year. They had a strong group of 19-year-olds coming in and were led on the back end by top NHL prospect Bowen Byram and older, experienced blueliners like Matt Barberis and Dylan Plouffe.
While they are currently atop the B.C. at 12-3-2-0, there have been some bumps along the way. Vancouver has had yet another rash of injuries strike its blue line with Plouffe, Barberis, 17-year-old phenom Joel Sexsmith and Baily Dhaliwal missing significant action.
It got so bad on the blue line that they moved a draft pick for Brandon Wheat Kings defender Ty Ettinger.
Byram, Plouffe (when healthy) and Alex Kannok Leipert have held down the fort of the Giants defensively and Byram and Plouffe have combined for 22 points from the blue line.
Up front, there have been some issues to overcome as well. Leading scorer James Malm, who had 15 points in 13 games requested a trade and was moved to the Calgary Hitmen along with a draft pick for 2000-born forward Tristen Nielsen.
A contender moving one of their top players and leading scorers is not something that happens often in the WHL. Usually, trades come from players not getting enough ice time, toiling away on a team struggling to win or looking to play closer to home.
None of the above was the case here.
In an article in the Vancouver Sun, Giants general manager Barclay Parneta stated that the trade was not planned but “what we’re doing here might not be for James.”
New head coach Michael Dyck has instilled a more defensive-minded system this year.
That system has found success this year. They have faced fewer shots sure, but they have also had stellar netminding from the likes of Arizona Coyotes draft pick David Tendeck and 17-year-old goalie Trent Miner.
Right now the Giants have allowed only 37 goals in 17 games, second-best in the WHL behind the league-leading Prince Albert Raiders.
Tendeck has played in 12 games this year and has a 2.33 GAA and 0.907 save percentage. He has a 8-3-1-0 record with two of those wins coming in the shootout.
Miner has a 1.41 GAA and 0.953 save percentage in six games this year. Miner has a 4-0-1-0 record with a shootout win himself.
A strong defensive system has helped Tendeck and Miner, but they both have been leaned on heavily at times and have stepped up when needed.
Byram told me the Giants know they can rely on Tendeck between the pipes.
“David is a pretty special guy. I think he is the best goalie in the league this year. He’s been playing like that so far. To be honest, he’s won us some games and we have only played seven so far. He’s an incredible goalie and a great guy. I’ve grown pretty close with him over the couple years I’ve been here. He’s a super dude so it is just fun to watch him play every night. Seems like every night he is making a highlight reel save.
Byram also had praise for Brandon, Manitoba native and 2016 first-round pick Miner.
“Saying that, Trent Miner has played well for us so far too. He’s been standing on his head every night. It;’s great for the team to have confidence in out goalies. We know that if we break down anytime on the ice, they are back there. It’s a huge confidence booster for the team to have those two.”
That is especially the case considering how many close games they have won. Vancouver is 6-1-1-0 in one-goal games this year. They have only allowed two or fewer goals in 11 of their 17 games this year.
Vancouver is five games into an eight-game home stand. They caught the Victoria Royals and are now eight points up for the B.C. Division lead.
Even with all that the team has gone through this year, the Giants have leaned on their defense and Miner and Tendeck to build a nice division lead. When they start to get healthier on the back end, they will stifle offenses game-in and game-out.
Another Western Conference team that found a lot of success with this type of system and goaltending was the Everett Silvertips. The Giants are looking to have that same type of success.