You could make a case that Ty Ronning is the most exciting player in the Western Hockey League.
The 20-year-old is the right-handed version of his dad Cliff, a Vancouver Canucks legend who was a vital cog in the ‘Nucks’ improbable run in coming within a win of winning the Stanley Cup in 1994.
Just like his dad, five-foot-nine Ty is deceptively quick, handles the puck like the tape of his stick is smothered with Krazy Glue, and has cerebral hockey sense and killer instinct, especially in the offensive zone.
The younger Ronning was on fire against an overmatched Calgary Hitmen squad Friday night in front of a relatively small Friday-night gathering of 3,246 fans at the Langley Events Centre.
Ronning tallied his 44th and 45th goals of the season, hit a crossbar, and could have added at tacked on two more goals (at least) to lead the G-Men to a 4-2 win over the Hitmen.
The watch is now on as Ronning closes in on the club record of 48, set by Buffalo Sabres winger Evander Kane back in 2008-09.
“I’m very confident in my abilities, right now,” Ronning said. “I’m rolling with things and things are going well.”
Ronning is no perimeter player, as Giants head coach Jason McKee pointed out.
“Scoring’s not easy,” McKee said. “You have to work to score and he’s figured that out. He goes to the hard areas on a consistent basis and he’s got a great shot to beat goalies in the slot. He’s scored a lot of goals this year (that are) two, three feet around the net and I’d like to see more of our guys get to that area on a consistent basis.”
Goal-scoring record aside, Ronning is and always has been focused on winning, and the Giants skated to their second straight victory over the Hitmen, after upending Calgary 4-1 on Wednesday.
Vancouver improves to 27-16-5-3 with tonight’s victory while the Hitmen fall to 15-30-5-1.
“Things were going tonight,” Ronning said. “Tonight we really pushed the pace.”
McKee said his team played better Friday than they did Wednesday, even if the result was the same.
“We were better tonight,” McKee said. “We created more opportunities which was a good sign for us. Our special teams were good on both sides which was nice to see. We started a little slow but we got going as the game went on. What I didn’t like were way too many penalties.”
Giants goaltender Trent Miner made his first career WHL start and was very sharp, stopping 31 of 33 shots, including all 17 he faced in a third period where the Hitmen poured it on, looking to get back into the game.
“You worry a little bit about a young guy making his first (official) start,” McKee said, of Miner. “But he’s a mature young man, he handled it well and our guys I thought played pretty hard in front of him.”
The rookie from Brandon Man., who celebrates his 17th birthday on Monday, had to be especially solid in the third period when a parade Giants were sent to the penalty box for minor infractions.
“He made some key saves there, at key times,” McKee said. “We put ourselves in a spot where we didn’t need to, taking so many penalties.”
The Hitmen opened the scoring on a fluke play, when a feed in front from Luke Coleman took a weird bounce off a Giants defender’s skate, allowing the puck to somehow arc over Miner’s shoulder.
But the Giants struck right back as captain Tyler Benson found defenceman Bowen Byram drifting into the slot and Byram made no mistake in wristing the puck past Calgary goaltender Nick Schneider.
A few minutes later, the visitors made it 2-1 when Tristen Nielsen’s laser-like slapshot from inside the blueline drifted over Miner’s shoulder.
The Giants came out in the second period like they had something to prove and completely dominated, outshooting the Hitmen 19-6.
Then the goals started to come, beginning with a Vancouver power play, in which Ronning tied the score at two on a beautiful three-way passing play, one-timing a centering pass from Byram at the 5:35 mark of the middle frame.
The Giants’ artistry continued with Ronning once again the beneficiary at the midway point of the frame. Stationed beside the net, all Ronning had to do was direct the puck into the wide open net off another cerebral feed, this time from reargard Matt Barberis.
Through most of the middle 20 minutes, wave after wave of Giants rolled in on the Hitmen, forcing the men in black to take penalties to stave off the pressure.
It didn’t take long for the Giants to get rewarded for the constant heat they put on the Hitmen, and they struck again 2:08 after Ronning’s goal, when a one-timer slapper from Byram from the point dinged off the post blocker side and in to make it 4-2 G-Men.
The Giants are right back at it Saturday night (Feb. 3), when they wrap up their eight-game homestand against the Medicine Hat Tigers. Game time is 7 p.m. If they win, it’ll be their third victory in a row.