Opinion: Since moving to the Langley Events Centre, the Giants have tried mightily to establish a foothold in their new locale and this spring’s playoff run seems to have marked a seminal moment for the franchise.In a story that’s become all-too familiar in this part of the world, they looked at their life in Vancouver three years ago, decided it wasn’t working and moved to the suburbs.There were any number of reasons for the relocation, cost of real estate being the biggest. But there were other considerations. Traffic had become a nightmare. Their neighbourhood changed. So did their social circle.Simply put, the Vancouver they moved into in 2001 no longer existed and it was time to build a new life. Three years and a number of challenges later, they can now look back and say they made the right decision, even though a piece of them still misses their old home.“Those were great days for the franchise,” says Ron Toigo, the Vancouver Giants’ owner. “You couldn’t get tickets to the Canucks and we were the next best option. The Coliseum will always be part of our history but we’re writing a new chapter in the Giants’ story.”One, as it happens, that is still unfolding but might be headed for a happier ending.On Friday night, the Giants host the Spokane Chiefs in Game 5 of their WHL best-of-seven Western Conference Final series and that encounter represents a potential berth in the league final for the G-men.But it also represents something of more lasting value to Toigo et al. Since moving to the Langley Events Centre, the Giants have tried mightily to establish a foothold in their new locale and this spring’s playoff run seems to have marked a seminal moment for the franchise.
Vancouver Giants forward Owen Hardy takes the puck to the net against the Spokane Chiefs in the first period of Game 3 on Tuesday night in Spokane.
Colin Mulvany/ The Spokesman-Review /
It will never be what it was in its heyday at the Coliseum but this new life in this new setting offers something of promise. The real measure of the move will be found in those seasons when the Giants aren’t flirting with a Memorial Cup berth but the feeling in the organization is they’ve now set down roots at the LEC and something will grow from this.“There’s no question it was a huge adjustment,” says Toigo. “But life changes and things go on. I think the support’s been OK. We might have expected it to be better but it works fine.”It might work better after these playoffs. The Giants moved to Langley after 15 seasons at the Coliseum that included a nine-year run when they were on the short list of the most successful franchises in junior hockey. Beginning with the NHL lockout in 2004-05, they averaged 7,789 fans per game, hosted and won a Memorial Cup, played in another and produced a string of homegrown stars, beginning with Gilbert Brule and running through Milan Lucic, Brendan Gallagher and Evander Kane.Along the way they occupied a different plane of existence than their colleagues in smaller markets. For almost 10 years the Giants were the WHL’s “It franchise,” an operation whose size and scope dwarfed the competition.Then the wins dried up. So did the fans.Over their last three years at the Coliseum, they routinely played to 3,000 fans which is a bad look in a 17,000-seat venue. Don Hay, the architect of the best-ever Giants teams, left for Kamloops in 2014 and the team missed the playoffs the next three years while Toigo burned through five coaches over five seasons.Suffice to say no one thought of them as the “It franchise” anymore but maybe something that rhymed with ‘it.’
Vancouver Giants’ Owen Hardy gets the puck past Spokane Chiefs goalie Bailey Brkin in Game 1 of their WHL playoff series. [PNG Merlin Archive]
Rik Fedyck /
In 2016 the G-men moved to Langley and even that wasn’t their first choice. The city of Surrey had designs for a new rink and entertainment district by the Scott Road SkyTrain Station but the $100-million deal fell apart over the funding model.The Giants, meanwhile, averaged 3,685 fans per game over their first three seasons at the LEC and even though they were saving on rent — the estimate is $300,000 a year over the cost of operating out of the Coliseum — the buzz around the franchise had faded to a whisper.Then came the Giants’ spring of 2019.After a slow start at the gate in the first round against Seattle, the Giants went over 4,500 in their first two home games against Victoria in Round 2, then reported a sellout in Game 1 of the Spokane series. The crowd of 4,917 was the largest to take in a Giants’ game in Langley and included Lucic and Gallagher, two members of the Giants’ royal family.Throw in the presence of star defenceman Bowen Byram, a likely top-five pick in the summer’s NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, a new GM in Barclay Parneta and a new coach in Michael Dyck at the top of hockey ops and it seems like the good times have returned.The next question is how long will they stay.“Hopefully we don’t have to make it this far every year (to draw fans),” said Toigo.“It’s a different crowd but you look at the way Vancouver’s growing and we’re right in the middle of things,” he said. “There’s half a million people out there (between Surrey, Langley, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam it’s actually closer to 800,000). We like to think we’re a Metro team.”More importantly, the Metro-area now thinks of the Giants as their team.Ewilles@postmedia.comTwitter.com/willesonsportsCLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org