Valley West Giants battle Thompson Blazers in B.C. Major Midget League action at Langley Events Centre last fall. (contributed photo: Gary Ahuja/LEC).

Valley West Giants battle Thompson Blazers in B.C. Major Midget League action at Langley Events Centre last fall. (contributed photo: Gary Ahuja/LEC).

HOCKEY

Valley West Giants grow larger with Major Bantam team new to Surrey-area hockey family

In new-look season for former Hawks franchise, Major Midget squad fell in first round of playoffs

With another hockey season in the rear-view mirror, Valley West Giants are now looking ahead to next year with its two existing Midget-level teams and a new Bantam squad that will wear the organization’s logo.

The Giants rep the South Fraser region in BC Hockey’s zone program, drawing players from the Cloverdale, North Delta, Semiahmoo and Surrey minor hockey associations.

In mid-March, the Giants’ flagship Major Midget team was swept by Fraser Valley Thunderbirds in the opening round of playoffs, in a best-of-three series scheduled at Abbotsford’s MSA Arena.

“You know, it’s a bit misleading, losing two straight like we did,” insisted Jamie Fiset, first-year GM of the Giants, formerly known as Valley West Hawks.

“The Friday-night game, we lose 3-1 and the shots were pretty much dead-even, with just a couple chances we didn’t bury,” he explained. “And then in Game 2, we go down 3-0 and battle back to make it 3-3, they go ahead 4-3, then with a minute left we tie it to go 4-4. It was a war, and they scored with about 30 seconds left to take the lead, and we couldn’t mount our third comeback of the game. It was two good games, as close as you can get.”

The team plays home games at Langley Events Centre.

Heading to playoffs, the Giants were ranked eighth in the 11-team B.C. Major Midget League (bcmml.net). On Saturday (March 30), the league championship was won by Cariboo Cougars, who topped the Thunderbirds to score the title for a second time in three seasons.

Fiset liked what he saw in his Major Midgets this season, despite some challenges.

Walter Erickson led the team in scoring with 38 points in 38 games, followed by Thomas Henry Jenkins with 35 points and Anton Cizmok and Carson Preston with 33 each. In goal, Mason Beaupit played most of the minutes and had a goals-against average of 3.32 for the year.

CLICK HERE for team stats and scores.

“The number of kids we saw improve was a real bright spot for us,” he said. “The majority of our kids were affiliated with Junior A or (WHL) teams, so it was nice to see an improvement from top to bottom.

“We were in a really weird spot,” he added, “because after Christmas we were pretty much guaranteed that we were going to finish the season in eighth place.… But you know what, that allowed us to do some things without worrying about trying to catch teams ahead of us – trying guys in different positions, different line combinations, so we threw a lot of new things at the players and I think it helped in their overall education.”

Next season, a good number of 2002-born players with the Giants have commitments with Junior A teams, Fiset said.

“So those guys are most likely gone, and I’d be shocked if they came back – anywhere between four and six and maybe even eight,” he said. “So we’ll see what happens with that.”

Last September, in a new look for the franchise just a few months after Fiset was hired as GM, the Hawks became Valley West Giants after swapping names with the North Vancouver-based team in the league. The move was a league decision – one that took Fiset by surprise at the time – and allowed Valley West to rebrand with a logo and colours similar to the WHL Vancouver Giants.

Also new last season for BC Hockey was a Minor Midget League, for elite-level 15-year-olds. The league aligned and affiliate with the Major Midget League, with 10 teams in the same geographic regions, save for the Kootenay zone.

In the end, the Giants’ Minor Midget team placed ninth and missed playoffs.

“I liked our season, and I liked what Minor Midget stood for, which is a good forum for players who may need a second chance for a second look, to compete with their peers and kids in their age group,” Fiset said.

“It’s surprising just how good the hockey was by Christmas,” he continued. “I thought it’d take a little longer for it to get set up, but I think it’s a testament to the coaches in the league. I mean, with our team, I think we probably under-achieved a little bit, but I don’t think it was for lack of effort, or whatever. We barely missed the playoffs, but we ended up in ninth. It literally came down to the last game. They competed hard.”

Looking ahead, the Giants will host Major and Minor Midget spring evaluation camps at Langley Twin Rinks from April 26 to 28, with tryout sessions for the new Major Bantam program happening that weekend, too.

“We’ll run the camps kind of side by side, with the Midgets on one side and the Bantams on the other,” Fiset explained.

On March 24, the Giants announced Riley Emmerson as head coach of the organization’s Bantam squad. A seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Emmerson played 10 seasons of pro hockey before entering the coaching ranks. Last season, he coached the Bantam A1 team in Abbotsford.

“We had some really good candidates, and it was nice that we had so many good candidates,” Fiset said. “In talking with BC Hockey and our coaching staff, we felt comfortable with Riley coming in, and he’s really keen to develop players and he has a lot of patience. He’s a former pro, and I was able to see some of the things he accomplished in Abbotsford. Even though they were a Flight 2 team, the players on his team really got better, and any time you put a group of kids in a situation where they get better, good things can happen. He’s just a good fit for us.”

The Major Bantam AAA hockey pilot program will be launched for the 2019-2020 season in the Lower Mainland and Okanagan, with seven teams of 13- and 14-year-old players representing the zones of Valley West, Fraser Valley, Greater Vancouver, Okanagan, Thompson, Vancouver North East and Vancouver North West.

“We have one of the highest enrollments among the (Bantam) teams in our league, so far,” Fiset noted last week. “We’re up there, with around 45 kids registered, and I’m anticipating the number gets to around 60 – that’s kind of the number we thought we’d get to. And one of the challenges we have in our zone is, and I don’t know why this is, but we’re the only Lower Mainland team that draws from four minor hockey associations, and everyone else draws from six. So inherently we have that disadvantage. And people will look at it and say yeah, but you are drawing from some big associations, so overall the numbers may look strong, but it is a bit different for us when you take a closer look.

“But even with that, our registration numbers are, yes, among the highest in the province, which is a bit strange, very unusual. I think what’s happening is, the majority of A1 kids in our zone are coming out to our camps, which is good to see.”

• RELATED STORIES:

Rebranded Valley West Giants look to rebound after slow start, from October 2018.

A new Major Bantam hockey league will debut in B.C. next fall, from December 2018.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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