Ten years haven’t rubbed any of the shine off the only Memorial Cup victory in Vancouver Giants history.
May 27 marked the 10-year anniversary of the Giants’ victory at the 2007 MasterCard Memorial Cup. The club defeated the Medicine Hat Tigers 3-1 in front of more than 16,000 fans at the Pacific Coliseum.
Many of the players and coaches from that 2007 title-winning team got together to reminisce June 16 at Tsawwassen Springs Golf Course.
Time has, of course, pulled the players in different directions, and most continue to play pro hockey.
Several are now playing in Europe; a select few including Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic, and Buffalo Sabres defenceman Cody Franson and forward Evander Kane (who played five playoff games for the Giants that year as a 15-year-old), have forged solid NHL careers.
Right winger Spencer Machacek played a major role during the Giants’ 2007 Memorial Cup run, in which he tallied nine goals and 20 assists in 22 playoff games.
“As time goes by, you realize how hard it is,” said Machacek, a member of the Berlin Polar Bears of the DEL, which is Germany’s top league.
“The year before we won the ‘Dub (WHL title) and came up a buck short in Moncton. You kind of felt like you are always going to be there. I’m going into my 10th year pro, now and I haven’t even got to a final, yet. You realize how hard it is, the older you get.”
“I still remember it vividly,” added centre James Wright, who at 16 was one of the youngest players on the team. “I don’t know if I took it for granted a little bit because it was my first year in the league, but at the time it was so amazing.”
Sharing so much success has created life-long friendships, Machacek said. “The bond that you have with the guys is unbelievable, and you have that forever which is amazing.”
Wright said, “It was an amazing group of guys and we’re all reminiscing about what a good crew we had and you can tell that by the turnout, here. At the time it was just surreal.”
Machacek said selflessness and a team-first ideology made that Giants team special — and hard to beat.
“It didn’t matter who was scoring the goals, it didn’t matter who was getting the points, everybody was happy for each other, you know? It’s hard to find that in a team and the teams that win probably have the same thing,” he said.
“It didn’t matter if it was Reps (Michal Repik) or Wacey (Rabbit) or Looch (Lucic) or whoever was scoring — everyone was happy for each other, and also we were competitive. We pushed each other in practice and when it came down to it, we would all stick up for each other and be there as one group.”
Wright — who plays alongside his former Giants’ teammate Jonathon Blum with the Vladivostok Admiral of the KHL — said that 2006-07 edition of the team was unique.
“We all kind of bought into the same idea,” he said. “Everyone bought into the same direction and obviously the results speak for themselves.”
Assistant coach Craig Bonner echoed the players’ sentiments.
“Everyone was willing to play the role that they had for the team to succeed,” Bonner said.
“It was always the team first, and the individual second. The guys realized if the team succeeded, they would have personal success. If you look at the history of the players who played for that team, a lot of them went on to play in the NHL or play professional hockey, and even the ones who didn’t, in life, have been successful.”
Bonner said the Giants didn’t have a lot of panic in their game “because most of the guys have been there before.”
“We played and we had confidence in the way we played and the way we did it, and eventually it paid off,” Bonner said.
Guided by head coach Don Hay, the Giants finished with a 45-17-0-10 regular season record, before losing to the powerhouse Medicine Hat Tigers in double overtime in Game 7 of the WHL Finals (the Giants earned an automatic Memorial Cup berth as the host team).
Still, Wright said the Giants were “built for the post-season.”
“We were gritty, tough, and I think that was one of the reasons why we were able to be even more successful in the playoffs than in the regular season,” Wright said.
“We were a hard team to play against,” Bonner said.
“Teams didn’t like to play against us. We would wear teams down. You could see in a lot of games, by the second and third period, (other teams’) defence weren’t so eager to go back and get the puck anymore. We were a hard forechecking, aggressive team.”
Fans will get their first look at the 2017-18 Giants when they host a Western Hockey League pre-season tournament Sept. 8 to 10 at the G-Men’s home rink, the Langley Events Centre. Also involved in the tournament are the Prince George Cougars, Victoria Royals, and Everett Silvertips.