The first half of the 72-game regular season began well and ended well for the Vancouver Giants.
The first three weeks of the regular season saw the Giants get off to a 4-3-2 (win-loss-overtime loss) start to the season, earning points at a rate which would ensure the Western Hockey League team would qualify for the playoffs.
The three weeks just prior to the holiday break were even better, as they went 7-3-1.
It was a disastrous seven-week stretch from mid-October to late November, which saw the team go 1-13-2 that has put the Giants in the hole they will need to climb out of over the final half of the season.
Vancouver is 12-19-5 after 36 games, the halfway point of the regular season. They are last in Western Conference standings, but need to overtake just two rivals in order to climb into the top eight and participate in the playoffs. And if they can maintain their level of play over the first three weeks of December, they should be able to reach the postseason.
A much-improved defensive record is behind much of their success over the past 11 games. After giving up an average of 4.08 goals against per game in the first 25 games of the season, they have lowered that figure to 2.28 over the next 11.
Goaltender Ryan Kubic is one of the reasons why. The 17-year-old appeared in just 10 of Vancouver’s first 25 games of the season, losing all eight decisions (0-7-1).
In the past 11 games, he’s started all 11, going 7-2-1. His goals against average has dropped from 2.28 over the first two months of the season to 1.85 during the recent streak. A save percentage of .878 has improved considerably, as Kubic posted a .937 mark, with three shutouts, over the most recent three weeks.
Matt Barberis has been contributing offensively all season, but his defensive numbers have improved considerably in the past month. The White Rock native is quietly putting together a solid rookie season, leading all Giants defencemen in scoring with five goals and 13 assists. But while he was a minus-13 through the first 25 games of the season, he’s been a plus-4 in the past 11.
Veteran Chase Lang, 19, and rookie Tyler Benson have stepped up their offensive production during the recent run. Lang, who had three goals in 14 games with the Giants following his trade to Vancouver from Calgary in late October, has eight in his past 11.
Benson, a 17-year-old projected to be a potential first round pick in next sumer’s National Hockey League Entry Draft, has four goals and 12 assists in the recent run, after totalling just nine appoints in the previous 15 games.
The Giants will likely need to play .500 hockey over the final half of the season to reach the playoffs. If they play up to the standard set in December, they will achieve that goal.
BLUE LINES: The Giants will have nine prospects playing in the Mac’s Midget AAA Tournament in Calgary this week. The tournament, which began Saturday (Dec. 26) and runs through to Friday (Jan. 1).
Three prospects are with the Yorkton Maulers. They include defenceman Kaleb Bulych, a 2015 second round draft pick, and forwards Kaeden Taphorn (2015 third round selection) and Tristyn DeRoose.
Goaltender David Tendeck, selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, will be playing with the Vancouver Giants of the BC Hockey Major Midget League. Other Giants prospects currently on teams from the B.C. league playing in Calgary are forwards Haydn Delorme (2015 ninth round pick), forward Haydn Delorme of the Vancouver Chiefs and James Malm (2014 second round pick) of the Valley West Hawks.
Jordan Biro was picked up as an affiliate player by the Sherwood Park Kings of the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League. The forward was listed by the Giants this past summer.
Alex Kannok-Keipert, a defenceman, will play for the Regina Pat Canadians. He was a fourth round pick in 2014.
Defenceman Austin King-Cunningham, listed this past fall, will play for the Moose Jaw Generals.