By GREGG DRINNANThe hockey gods have been known to work in mysterious ways.
Daily News Sports Editor
Daily News Sports Editor
How else to explain that the Vancouver Giants, who have had one five-game losing streak in more than six seasons under head coach Don Hay, should lose four straight times before beating the visiting Chilliwack Bruins 2-1 on Saturday night?
That meant Hay was able to be credited with his 500th WHL coaching victory on a night when his good friend Ken Hitchcock was at Pacific Coliseum.
“It’s not just a number,” Hay said Monday afternoon. “It means I’ve been really lucky to work with good people, good organizations in Kamloops and Tri-City and here.”
Hay, who also has coached the Kamloops Blazers and Tri-City Americans, is the fourth coach in WHL history to reach that milestone. He is in his 12th season as a WHL head coach; this is his seventh with the Giants.
On the all-time list, he trails Ken Hodge (742), Ernie (Punch) McLean (548) and the late Pat Ginnell (518).
“When you have success it’s got a lot to do with the people around you,” Hay said. “You look at the players I’ve had the opportunity to coach and you feel pretty lucky.”
Hitchcock was the Blazers’ head coach in Kamloops when Hay, then a local firefighter, joined the coaching staff as an assistant coach. Hay, of course, eventually took over as head coach and guided the Blazers to Memorial Cup titles in 1994 and 1995.
Hitchcock was fired last season as head coach of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, despite having a contract that pays US$1.3 million annually and runs through next season. Hitchcock was in Vancouver for the first Hyundai Hockey national coaching symposium and minor hockey clinic.
“Yeah,” Hay said. “Hitch was at the game . . . that was good.”
Of course, Hay was well aware that he was close to them milestone but he said he really began to realize Sunday just what it was that he had accomplished.
“It really sank in on Sunday when I got a lot of texts and emails and congratulatory messags from ex-players and coaches around the league and form other coaches,” he said. “It starts to sink in and you say, ‘Wow, it is quite a milestone.’ ”
However, Hay added, he is glad that it’s over because “your focus as always as a coach is to win the next game.”
That next game happens to be tonight and, with Hay to be honoured in a pregame ceremony, it is somehow only fitting that it will be against the visiting Blazers.
“That organization means a lot to me, obviously,” Hay said. “It’s where I started and have a home.
“It’s always special when we play against the Blazers but the games right now are so important. You can have a bad week and go from first to right out of the hunt.”
The Giants (14-11-4), who have won five B.C. Division pennants in a row, are tied for second in the division, a point back of the Prince George Cougars. Vancouver is tied for fifth in the10-team Western Conference, where nine teams are within six points of each other.
The Blazers (14-13-2) are eighth, two points behind the Giants.
“We’ve been telling our guys that it’s like Ferburary, when normally you’re scratching and fighting,” Hay said. “Usually in Febrary, there’s one or two teams out of it, but there’s nobody out of the hunt right now.”
Hay, 56, has been in the business long enough to know that injuries are part of the game. But, he admitted, injuries have taken a toll on the Giants.
“I don’t think we can gauge our team right now,” Hay said. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to get everybody back at the same time. We’ll have some decisions to make when we get everybody healthy. Hopefully, by the trade deadline we’ll be healthier.”
The Giants have five players with long-term injuries, including Slovakian winger Marek Tvrdon, who had 11 points, including six goals, in 12 games when he went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
They also are missing forwards Randy McNaught (ankle) and Connor Redmond (shoulder), while defencemen Luke Fenske and Zach Hodder are out with shoulder injuries. On top of that, forward Greg Lamoureux left Saturday’s game with an upper body injury and was to see a doctor yesterday.
“To lose a guy like Tvrdon, a young guy who scored six goals in 12 games . . . we’re not blessed with a lot of scoring right now anyway,” Hay said. “To lose him was a big blow.”
Things have gotten so desperate on offence that late last week Hay split up forwards Craig Cunningham and Brendan Gallagher, who not that long ago were running one-two in the WHL points derby. Cunningham has 43 points, but only seven since Nov. 1.
Hay said it’s a matter of the puck “just not going in” for Cunningham. “Teams are playing him hard,” the coach said. “He’s still working as hard as ever but (goals) are becoming tougher and tougher to come by.”
JUST NOTES: The game features the WHL’s top two goal scorers in LW Brendan Ranford of the Blazers, who has 25, and Gallagher, with 24. . . . The Giants get D Wes Vannieuwenhuizen back from a seven-game suspension tonight. He hasn’t played since Nov. 11. . . . The Giants will be without F Brett Lyon, who has drawn a one-game suspension for fighting off the opening faceoff on Saturday. . . . The Blazers have followed a six-game road winning streak by losing four in a row away from home. And five of the six games left on their pre-Christmas schedule are on the road.
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