With the playoffs seeming more and more likely with each passing game, the Vancouver Giants have added some much-needed post-season experience to their roster.
The Giants were involved in four transactions this week ahead of the Western Hockey League trade deadline on Jan. 10, with two of the moves bolstering the team for the immediate future.
Defenceman Brennan Riddle from Lethbridge and forward Davis Koch from Edmonton joined the team with Vancouver shipping out forwards Brad Morrison and Brendan Semchuk and back-up goaltender Todd Scott. Draft picks were also involved.
Koch’s offence (18 goals, 39 points) replaces Morrison’s 11 goals and 35 points, while Semchuk had eight goals and 19 points in 39 games but had not played since last month after leaving the team.
Combine those moves with the acquisition of forward Jared Dmytriw back in November, and the three new Giants have a combined 59 games of post-season experience. By comparison, the only other four Vancouver players on the roster who have played in the WHL playoffs have a combined 17 games under their belts.
And while they may not be able to sustain their current level of success — they are 14-2-2-0 since late November, an .833 winning percentage — the Giants seem destined for the WHL playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
The Giants sit at 24-14-4-2 after wrapping up a 4-0-1-0 road trip with a 5-1 win and a 4-3 overtime loss earlier this week with both games against the Prince George Cougars. Vancouver’s 54 points have them one back of the Kelowna Rockets for the B.C. Division lead.
With 28 games remaining in the regular season, the Giants have a 15-point cushion for a playoff spot and Vancouver is on pace for 88 points, so barring an epic collapse, the team should experience some spring hockey.
Koch has played in 11 playoff games and Riddle has suited up in 20, reaching the Eastern Conference finals last year.
Dmytriw has the most post-season experience of the trio, having reached the post-season in all three of his WHL seasons and playing in a combined 26 games.
“The games tighten up, they get a lot heavier,” Dmytriw described earlier this month, prior to the team heading out on their five-game road trip. “A good testament to that was our game in Everett (on Dec. 29).
“Right off the puck drop, guys were hitting the ice. Games get tough and you have to step up.”
Dmytriw was acquired from Red Deer, but he spent his first three seasons in the league with the Victoria Royals.
“We have liked him for a while,” said Vancouver coach Jason McKee, adding he felt the versatile winger was under the radar during his time as a Royal.
“He knows what he is doing in all three zones and his brain goes the same speed as his feet.”
McKee also raved about Dmytriw’s versatility and the intangibles he brings.
“He was a perfect fit for what we needed,” the coach said. “He knows how to win hockey games and for the second half of the year, those are the guys you are really going to lean on.”
New back-up goaltender, prospect defenceman
With David Tendeck’s game taking a big leap and establishing himself as the team’s clear-cut No. 1 goaltender, that made Scott expendable. To replace the back-up goalie, Vancouver called up Trent Miner, a first round pick (20th) overall in the 2016 WHL bantam draft.
In 30 games this season with the Brandon Wheat Kings midget AAA team, Miner is 17-3-0-0 with a .941 save percentage and a 1.64 goals against average.
Vancouver also acquired the rights to Joel Sexsmith, the ninth overall selection in the 2017 bantam draft.
The Swift Current Broncos receive the Giants first round pick in the 2018 draft. Sexsmith remains unsigned.
The Giants also traded away Austin King-Cunningham to Tri-City for a conditional fifth round pick in the 2019 bantam draft.
Cholowski on the move
Langley’s Dennis Cholowski will finish his WHL season with the Portland Winterhawks after Prince George shipped out their captain. Cholowski was the centrepiece of the trade which fetched the Cougars two players, a first, two seconds, a third and a conditional sixth round draft pick.