VANCOUVER - After an arduous six-game Prairie road swing, Vancouver Giants captain Dalton Thrower is excited to finally be able to play in front of friends and family.
He's also hoping to enjoy his first victory with his new team.
Heading into Friday's game against Kamloops, the Giants have just one regulation win in 10 starts. That includes losses on all six games of their recent road trip, which started just after Thrower was returned to the Giants by the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.
"It was a bit disappointing not to stick with Hamilton," said the right-handed defenceman, who spent two weeks with the Montreal Canadiens' AHL affiliate. "There were some things going on. They had a lot of D-men and I knew it was going to be tough. But coming here, and getting a chance to play in front of family and friends for a whole season, is a win-win situation for me."
The native of Squamish, B.C., whose family moved to North Vancouver when he was 12, had spent the past four seasons with the Saskatoon Blades. He was the 30th pick overall of the Blades in the 2008 WHL bantam draft. The Canadiens grabbed him as their second-round selection (51st overall) in the 2012 draft.
With the six-foot, 203-pound blue-liner still eligible to play in the Western Hockey League as a 20-year-old (he turns 20 in December), the Canadiens elected to send him back for one final year of junior rather than keep him in Hamilton.
He joins a Giants team in the second year of a major rebuild after a run of considerable success. In the past decade, the Giants won five straight B.C. Division titles as well as one Memorial Cup title in two appearances.
Their ambitious marketing slogan this year is "Champions Under Construction." So far, however, 2013-14 is looking a lot like last season, when the Giants finished dead last in the 22-team WHL.
But having Thrower patrolling the blue-line adds stability to a team with eight players aged 17 or younger on its roster. This is precisely what general manager Scott Bonner had in mind in the off-season when he acquired Thrower from Saskatoon for a conditional second-round bantam pick.
"Dalton has given us something we really needed," said team coach Don Hay. "He has fitted in well. We're a young team and we need his maturity. He's a guy who plays with a lot of confidence and that rubs off on the younger guys."
Those weren't just empty words from the head coach. The Giants felt so confident in the character of the player they were acquiring they named him their captain before he even played his first game.
"One of the things Montreal wanted Dalton to emphasize with us was his leadership skills," Hay said. "Not many players are born leaders. It's a hard thing to learn."
Thrower has wasted little time impressing his new teammates.
"He's a great guy," said fellow defenceman Brett Kulak, a Calgary Flame draft pick who has also been thrust into a leadership position this year. "He's a real easy guy to get along with. He's our captain for a reason."
In four years with the Blades, Thrower never wore a letter on his jersey. He considers it a very big deal to be named the 13th captain in Vancouver's franchise history.
"It's a big honour for me and my family," he said. "It's a dream come true to wear the 'C' in my hometown. I feel like I'm a leader, but I definitely have things I need to learn. I feel I can be vocal. I believe I can say things that need to be said."
On the ice, the newest Giant wants to get back to showcasing the all-around game that led the Habs to make him a high selection. In particular, he'd like to recapture the offensive numbers he put up two years ago when he had 18 goals and 54 points — totals that slipped to six goals and 21 points last season.
He's off to a good start with Vancouver with six points (including three goals) in his six road starts, which leads the team in scoring.
He bristles at the suggestion the deal that brought him home to the West Coast is contingent on the club passing him on to a contender should Vancouver be out of the playoff picture at the trade deadline.
"I've never heard any talk of that," he said. "I want to be here. I think we've got what it takes to turn this team around."