Sunday, 5 May 2019

Absence makes Giants head coach cherish WHL final return

Michael Dyck is back in the WHL final as the Giants head coach.
    For Michael Dyck, the days of Zach Boychuk, Dwight King, Ben Wright, Luca Sbisa and Mitch Fadden seem like both yesterday and another lifetime ago.
    Back in 2008, Dyck, who was 39-years-old at the time, was guiding his hometown Lethbridge Hurricanes to a berth in the WHL final. The Hurricanes put up the fifth best record in the WHL regular standings in 2007-08 with a 45-21-2-4 record.
    The Hurricanes advanced to the WHL Championship series and were swept away in the best-of-seven set 4-0 by the Spokane Chiefs, who finished with the second best record in the WHL regular season at 50-15-1-6. The Chiefs advanced on to win the Memorial Cup.
    Currently, Dyck is guiding the Vancouver Giants as head coach in this year’s WHL final. He is overseeing a team that boasts the likes of Bowen Byram, Davis Koch, Justin Sourdif, Milos Roman and Dylan Plouffe.
    This season marks the first time Dyck has been back in the WHL Championship series since guiding the Hurricanes there 11 years ago.
    The Giants are tied 1-1 in this year’s best-of-seven WHL final with the Prince Albert Raiders.
Game 3 is slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time at the Langley Events Centre in Langley, B.C.
    “After you get an opportunity like we had in Lethbridge, the message is these don’t come around very often,” said Dyck, who is now 50 years old. “You certainly have to take advantage of it, when it comes.”
Head coach Michael Dyck addresses his Giants during a media timeout.
    Dyck and the Hurricanes parted ways at the end of the 2008-09 campaign. He wouldn’t take on another head coaching position in the WHL until joining the Giants in late June of 2018.
    In most of the years between WHL head coaching positions, Dyck could be found guiding the minor hockey teams his son, Carson, played on in Lethbridge. When Carson joined the Okotoks Oilers in the junior A ranks, Michael decided the time was right to join the Giants as head coach.
    He is pleased he has been able to help the Giants make their first appearance in the WHL final since 2007, but still cherishes the special time he had between WHL head coach gigs.
    “It was nice to get away,” said Dyck. “It was nice to spend some time with my family.
    “It was nice to work with my own son instead of everybody else’s kids. It was time to come back.
    “I wouldn’t have come back, if it wasn’t the right opportunity. There were lots of opportunities to come back, but this was the right one.”
    With both the Hurricanes and the Giants, Dyck guided each team to a WHL final appearance in a short span of time. In Lethbridge, Dyck joined the Hurricanes in early November of 2005 and had them in the WHL Championship series in his third season with the club.
    In Vancouver, Dyck has the Giants in the WHL final in his first campaign as the team’s head coach.
    In both spots, Dyck said a culture chance was needed but remembers being in for a bigger challenge on that front in Lethbridge.
    “We had to change the culture here, but there was much more a transformation there,” said Dyck. “The building blocks were already in place when we got here.
Bowen Byram is one of the talented players Michael Dyck gets to coach.
    “What we want to do is bring a winning attitude here and winning habits.”
    Looking back in 2008, Dyck thought rest would be the biggest advantage for his Hurricanes. The Hurricanes swept the Calgary Hitmen 4-0 in that year’s WHL Eastern Conference final.
    The Chiefs went through a seven-game war with the Tri-City Americans win witn the WHL’s Western Conference title and five of those clashes went to overtime. Out of those five overtime clashes, three went to double overtime.
    Lethbridge had eight days off between eliminating Calgary and hitting the ice to face Spokane. Spokane had two days off between eliminating Tri-City and returning to action against Lethbridge.
    “We thought we would catch them (the Chiefs) tired,” said Dyck. “I remember (Chiefs head coach) Billy Peters saying he was going to take rhythm over rest, and it worked for him.”
    Dyck said that experience provided lessons he used to prepare the Giants for the WHL final encounter they are currently engaged in with the Raiders.
    The Raiders finished first overall in the WHL regular season at 54-10-2-2, and the Giants were second overall at 48-15-3-2.
    “This series, I think both Prince Albert and ourselves have had about the same amount of games,” said Dyck. “We maybe had a couple of more days (of rest).
    “In learning from that (the 2008 WHL final), we really wanted to simulate as much as we could the intensity of playoff hockey in our practices, so I thought we were well prepared coming in.”
Head coach Michael Dyck wants to guide the Giants to a WHL title win. 
    Going into his final season guiding the Hurricanes, Dyck believed his team was better equipped to win the WHL title in 2008-09 than the squad that made the WHL final in 2007-08.
    The Hurricanes had a respectable 35-32-3-2 record in 2008-09, eliminated the Saskatoon Blades in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs and fell in a four-game sweep to the Hitmen in the second round.
    That experience reinforced to Dyck how difficult it is to return to a league final.
    “You learn very quickly that these opportunities don’t come around very often,” said Dyck. “You see it in the National Hockey League level.
    “There are a lot of good teams that have been bounced out of the playoffs that everybody probably would think would be going to the third and fourth round. When these opportunities come, you have to take advantage of them.”

Nerves got better of Raiders in Game 1

Raiders C Spencer Moe (#11) is stopped by Giants G David Tendeck.
    Even powerhouse teams can get a case of the nerves at the most inopportune times.
    That was likely a factor in why the Prince Albert Raiders fell 5-4 to the Vancouver Giants in Game 1 of the WHL final played on Friday in Prince Albert.
    Both teams are evenly matched. The Raiders topped the WHL regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    The Giants placed second overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 48-15-3-2 record and are rated sixth in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    While the Raiders were backed by a sellout crowd of 3,289 fans at the 2,580 Art Hauser Centre, the early excited feelings quickly faded as the Giants jumped out to a 2-0 lead at the 6:06 mark of the opening frame.
    The Raiders were on their heels in the opening frame, but they played strong second and third periods of that contest ultimately falling 5-4. Raiders star netminder Ian Scott let in a couple of goal on softer scoring chances, and that could be chalked up to nerves too.
Captain Brayden Pachal (#8) and the Raiders posted a big Game 2 win.
    Prince Albert is making its first appearance in the WHL final since 1985 and is the consensus top club in the WHL to boot.
    In Game 2 on Saturday played before another sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the Art Hauser Centre, the Raiders skated to a 4-0 victory holding a 34-15 edge in shots on goal.
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said his club was battled the nerves in the first period of Game 1 in the post-game presser. After the Raiders won Game 2, Habscheid felt his view of Game 1 was further confirmed.
    “We were nervous (on Friday),” said Habscheid. “It is great to have home ice advantage, but Game 1 sometimes it is almost easier to start on the road, especially when you don’t play the other team a lot.
    “It is the way it is. We have our game. Our game is good right now.
    “That is what is most important.”
    In Game 1, it felt like the Giants played a lot more free and easy than the Raiders did, which allowed the Vancouver side to come out on top.
    The Raiders rebounded with a solid all-out effort in winning Game 2 in convincing fashion.
    With the next three games of the WHL title series set for Langley, B.C., it will be interesting to see where the momentum swings between these two clubs goes from here.

Martin watch on for Raiders

Max Martin left Saturday’s game with an injury.
    The Max Martin watch will be on for the Prince Albert Raiders heading into Game 3 of the WHL final.
    The Raiders 19-year-old offensive defenceman left the second period of his team’s 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Giants in Game 2 of the WHL Championship series on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    Martin blew a tire and fell awkwardly on his own into the boards. He left the game, and in the post-game presser, Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said Martin will be re-evaluated on Sunday.
    The Winnipeg, Man., product left with the Raiders holding a 3-0 lead. Martin picked up an assist on the Raiders third goal of the contest scored by star overage centre Noah Gregor on the power play.
    The rearguard was a plus-two in the plus-minus department as well.
    Martin, who stands 6-feet and weighs 178 pounds, has appeared in all of the Raiders 18 post-season games to date collecting seven assists and a plus-14 rating. In 59 regular season games, he recorded six goals, 35 assists and a plus-45 rating.
    Besides his scoring prowess, Martin is known for his ability to play through injury.
Max Martin has put up a lot points on the back end for the Raiders.
    The only time he sits is if his injury really hampers his ability to play on the ice that he become detrimental to the team.
    When the Raiders and Giants go at it in Game 3 of the WHL final on Tuesday at the Langley Events Centre in Langley, B.C., all eyes will look at the beginning of the game to see if Martin plays.
    If he doesn’t play, that will likely shake up the Raiders normally locked in defensive pairings of Martin with Sergei Sapego, captain Brayden Pachal with Zack Hayes and Jeremy Masella with Kaiden Guhle.
    If Martin can’t go, Loeden Schaufler will likely be placed in the lineup to play defence for the Raiders. Schaufler has seen action in four of the Raiders post-season games.
    After Martin went down, the Raiders defensive unit continued to play strong, so that will likely continue to add confidence to the Prince Albert side.

Miracle at the i-Plex remembered

Giorgio Estephan celebrates his OT winner last year in Swift Current.
    It is crazy to think a year ago today one of the all-time classic games in the history of the WHL playoffs went down in Swift Current.
    On May 5, 2018, the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex played host to the “Miracle at the i-Plex.”
    In this encounter, the host Swift Current Broncos were taking on the visiting Everett Silvertips in Game 2 of the WHL Championship series. Everett took Game 1 of the best-of-seven set one night earlier by a 2-1 final.
    In the 2017-18 campaign, the Broncos finished second overall in the WHL’s regular season standings at 48-17-5-2, and the Silvertips were third overall at 47-20-2-3.
    The Silvertips seemed poised to take control of the series. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first period in Game 2.
The fans in Swift Current cheer on the Broncos.
    Swift Current scored in the second period to cut the gap to 3-1, but Everett still seemed to be in total control. The Silvertips had numerous opportunities to land the knockout blow with high quality scoring chances.
    The Broncos came out for the third period before a warm standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 2,890 spectators.
    Swift Current battle back scoring twice in the third to tie the contest up at 3-3 and force overtime. Tyler Steenbergen scored the equalizer with 1:37 to play in the third with netminder Stuart Skinner pulled for an extra attacker.
    Giorgio Estephan netted the winner at the 9:27 mark of overtime to deliver the Broncos to a 4-3 victory.
    The rally occurred against Silvertips star goaltender Carter Hart, who had back stopped Canada to goal at that season’s world juniors.
    The series switched to Everett for three straight games, and Swift Current won Games 3 and 4. The Broncos captured the WHL title on home ice with a 3-0 victory in Game 6.
    After covering the Game 2 comeback, I realized more the next day what I actually got to watch and cover.
Tyler Steenbergen, left, celebrates scoring the equalizer for the Broncos.
    I had seen one of the all-time great games played in the history of the WHL final and as well as the WHL playoffs.
    It was one of those games where you asked yourself, “Did I just see that?”
    I still can’t believe that game happened a year ago.
    The “Miracle at the i-Plex” will live forever in Broncos lore.
    You can read the game story about that contest from a year ago by clicking right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to
    If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.