The Pacific Coliseum began construction in 1968 in hopes of drawing an NHL franchise to Vancouver. (Photo courtesy of Heritage Vancouver)

Story by Alex Rodgerson/ISN

In a little over two weeks time the Vancouver Giants will make their return to the Pacific Coliseum for the first time in over three years, as the team returns to the building they called home for fifteen WHL seasons. Set to host a pair of games to start December, the Giants will first take on the Tri-City Americans on December 1st before welcoming the Victoria Royals to town one week later.

This will be the first time since their move following the 2015-2015 season to the Langley Events Centre that the Giants will play in their old barn, which is something that has been welcomed with excitement from Vancouver hockey fans.

Currently ranked amongst the CHL’s Top-10, the Giants have enjoyed a strong start to the 2018-2019 WHL season. Currently sitting first in the B.C. Division and Western Conference, the Giants have only lost four times in regulation while owning a sparkling 5-1-1 road record so far this season. Vancouver is also a team that features leadership by commitee, led by first year captain Jared Dmytriw and alternate captains Matt Barberis, Owen Hardy, Dylan Plouffe, Alex Kannok-Leipert and Bowen Byram.

On the heels of losing forwards Tyler Benson and Ty Ronning to aging-out, the Giants have managed to continue to ice an extremely competitive roster that also features several players currently the property of NHL teams including Milos Roman (CGY), Alex Kannok-Leipert (WSH), Dylan Plouffe and David Tendeck (ARZ). Despite the current success of the team the future could actually be even brighter, with rookies Justin Sourdif, Yannik Valenti, Lukas Svejkovsky and goaltender Trent Miner set to take the reigns in the coming years.

Bowen Byram, Dylan Plouffe, Jared Dmytriw, Matt Barberis, Owen Hardy & Alex Kannok-Leipert. (From left to right)
Bowen Byram, Dylan Plouffe, Jared Dmytriw, Matt Barberis, Owen Hardy & Alex Kannok-Leipert. (From left to right)

On December 1st, the Giants will host the Tri-City Americans. Currently 12-6-0 on the season despite sitting last in a high-powered U.S. division, Tri-City has dominated the head-to-head match up with Vancouver over the passed five years compiling a 10-2 record against the Giants in that time. While their clash on December 1st will be the two team’s first meeting of the season, last season the Americans walked away victorious in three of the four meetings with Vancouver while also surprising many with their two playoff series victories over Kelowna and Victoria.

A week after taking on the Tri-City Americans at the Pacific Coliseum, the Giants will then welcome their top rivals the Victoria Royals for a game one week later that will feature this year’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. Before last season’s massive sixteen win turnaround that saw the Giants catapulted back into WHL relevance, for years the Victoria Royals had feasted on Vancouver in the regular season.

Last season the Giants went 3-7 against the Royals, which was an improvement from the prior five seasons that saw Victoria amass a 23-8-1 record against Vancouver. In last year’s opening round of the WHL playoffs the Giants looked to be in tough against their B.C. division adversaries, but surprised everyone with their resiliency when they pushed the series to a Game 7 in Victoria. Though the Giants would fall in Game 7, they would show that they’re no longer going to be pushed around by the Royals.

The Vancouver Giants will head into their game with the Tri-City Americans on December 1st owning an all-time regular season record of 301-190-43 at the Pacific Coliseum. In their storied fifteen seasons at the “Rink on Renfrew”, the Giants would only own a losing record on home ice in four out of fifteen seasons while the team would qualify for the WHL playoffs in ten straight seasons from 2002-2012. In 2005-2006, only the fifth year in the existence of the Giants franchise, Vancouver would capture the WHL championship before hosting the 89th annual Memorial Cup at the Pacific Coliseum just one year later.

The 2007 Memorial Cup Champion Vancouver Giants (Photo by Andy Clark)
The 2007 Memorial Cup Champion Vancouver Giants (Photo by Andy Clark)

The 2007 Memorial Cup tournament would see the Giants, though having lost the WHL finals that season, hosting the tournament against the Medicine Hat Tigers, the OHL champion Plymouth Whalers, and the QMJHL champion Lewiston Maineiacs. After dispatching of Plymouth in the semi-finals by a blowout score of 8-1, the Giants would eventually take down the team that beat them in that year’s WHL finals, the Medicine Hat Tigers, and capture the Memorial Cup Championship on home ice.

Formerly the home of the Vancouver Canucks from 1970-1995, the Pacific Coliseum is one of Vancouver’s most unique sports venues. Originally built in 1968, the Coliseum has been home to a number of now extinct sports franchises such as the Vancouver Blazers (WHA) and the Vancouver Voodoo (Roller Hockey), and was also used as a venue during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics for figure skating and short track speed skating.

Officially named a Vancouver heritage site in August 2013, the Coliseum was also once the home to Game Four of the Canada-Russia 1972 Summit Series — an infamous game in which Canada lost 5-3 and captain Phil Espisito had one of the most memorial post-game interviews of all time. Another one of the most memorable times in the history of the Coliseum would be the 1994 NHL playoffs, when a post-season run for Vancouver would see the Canucks come within a single game of the Stanley Cup.

One of the main talking points surrounding the Giants return to the Coliseum has been from Vancouver fans that feel they have been alienated since the team’s move to Langley to start the 2016-2017 season. However, according to the Vancouver Giants’ annual attendance numbers, interest in the team has been down since long before the team’s move to the Langley Events Centre.

While the move to Langley would show a clear drop in attendance, as shown above the interest in Giants’ home games have fallen each year since the 2012-2013 season. This raises questions as to why Vancouver has been seemingly losing it’s appetite for Junior Hockey, despite all the great young talent and an on-ice product that rivals today’s NHL in entertainment value.

After moving to the Langley Events Centre to begin the 2016-2017 season, Giants ownership would put their hopes in the people of Langley to embrace the team right away. However, after a promising opening night, attendance at the 5,276 seat arena would come crashing back to earth for the duration of the season. After seeing 4,875 fans on opening night in 2016, to this date the Giants have been unable to match that attendance number for a single regular season home game.

Things wouldn’t get any better in year two as the team would see another drop in attendance in 2017-2018, with the Giants only able to muster over 4,000 fans on four occasions while seeing a season-low 2,337 fans during a November 28th game vs Seattle. Despite the common belief that winning will always draw fans, the Giants would actually see a significantly less number of fans through the doors in 2017-2018 despite icing a better team to that of a year prior.

This season, despite the team being one of the best Major Junior clubs in the entire country, the Giants set their all-time worst single game attendance record on October 16th vs Swift Current. Usually you would expect that when the defending WHL champs come to town there would be a little buzz, but instead on a Tuesday night in Langley the team would only draw a mere 2,247 fans to the Langley Events Centre. All of this with the Giants only now in year three of a ten-year lease at the LEC.

The Giants fading attendance over the passed several seasons is definitely not a great look for the city that will host this year’s IIHF World Junior Championships, as Vancouver will no doubt sell out World Juniors’ games for Norway vs Slovenia while the Giants will continue to see a record-low number of fans at their own home games.

The Vancouver Canucks on the other hand, a team that has only turned their fortunes around this season after being dreadful for the last five years, has never averaged less than 18,000 fans since the 2001-2002 season when they averaged 17,712. This shows that there is still an big appetite for hockey in Vancouver, yet for one reason or another people aren’t making it out to the Langley Events Centre to see the Giants. In some respects however, it makes actually makes sense.

If you’re located in Vancouver or a suburb like Burnaby or Coquitlam, then driving to the games can be difficult due to the high volumes of rush hour traffic on the highway to the game. Also, if you don’t own a vehicle or don’t plan on driving to the game, then you’re absolutely out of luck. The bus to take you back towards Vancouver only runs once an hour after 9:30 PM, and in many cases, does not come at all.

One would think once the Skytrain/LRT situation gets resolved in Surrey, that perhaps a more accessible way to the game will be made for Vancouver Giants fans. However at this time, using transit to get to and from the game is a complete nightmare and I personally understand why people try to avoid it at all costs.

The Giants are currently seventeenth out of twenty-two teams in average attendance this season, just barely ahead of the Medicine Hat Tigers, a city with a population of just over 60,000 people.

In 2018 there are a vast amount of reasons to go see the Giants. With future NHL stars such as prospective top-10 pick in next year’s NHL draft Bowen Byram as well as Arizona Coyotes draft-picks David Tendeck and Dylan Plouffe, the Giants play an up-tempo, skilled, and physical style of hockey and provide a great game experience for fans. On any given night fans are treated to seeing the NHL’s future stars, as every game provides a window into hockey’s future.

Boasting a wide-range of players whom are either upcoming NHL draft picks or are already property of NHL teams, the Giants continue to see their graduates move on to bigger and better things as the franchise continues to be a stepping stone to the NHL. Last year’s two top Giants Ty Ronning and Tyler Benson have both moved on to the American Hockey League this season, and will no doubt suit up for their NHL clubs sometime very soon in the future.

The Giants return to the Pacific Coliseum will be a huge draw, but a mere band-aid on a much deeper wound unless fans start showing up at the Langley Events Centre. This will be up to the Giants ownership and management, the LEC, and their relationship with the city of Langley to fix the situation. If not, then not even the bottomless pockets of Sportsnet will be able to save this team in the future.