Winning a hockey championship at any age creates a bond that is cherished forever.
The Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League are one many teams who have a proven track record of success. The Giants won the WHL Championship in 2005-06 and then Memorial Cup the next season in their home barn. If you were to look closely at the team photo after they captured the coveted Cup, you will be able to count over 10 players who have played at least one NHL game.
There are four players in the Winnipeg Jets system who were on that Memorial Cup winning team. Brett Festerling
, Spencer Machacek
, Kenndal McArdle
and Jets’ superstar Evander Kane
were all Vancouver Giants and hold a lot of special memories from their time there.
Former Giants’ Captain Brett Festerling
described the organization, “First class is probably the first thing I’d say. Ron Toigo, the owner, does an incredible job. He takes care of the guys and puts a lot back into the guys. It’s beyond what anyone would expect from junior.
“I won two championships there and that makes it one of my top hockey memories for sure. I go back to Vancouver and train with those guys every summer. Milan Lucic just won the Stanley Cup so I went back for the cup party.”
Kane, who started with the Giants at 15 years old, played eight games at the end of the regular season, five playoff games, and the Memorial Cup final in 2007.
That definitely helped kick start my junior career. - Evander Kane
“That definitely helped kick-start my junior career,” said Kane. “Coming into my first full rookie year as a 16-year-old really gave me a lot of confidence early on. I was able to have a pretty solid year. Then came my draft year which was a really big year for me. I wanted to have a really big push and boost myself up and I was able to do that. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without the Vancouver Giants.
“The organization is such a great family,” he continued. “They really bring you in and give you the best treatment possible, right from Toigo, to Scott Bonner, (General Manager), to Don Hay (Head Coach). I think Don really helped me and really made me into the player that I could be. He gave me an opportunity early on. He was the best junior coach I’ve ever seen.”
Kane feels that having a few close friends in the Jets locker room from his junior days will cement their bond at the NHL level. Even the equipment manager of the Winnipeg Jets, Jay McMaster, is a Giants alumnus.
“It’s great to see familiar faces,” said Kane. “Jay McMaster was my first ever equipment manager and he was on that team and now he’s here in Winnipeg. It’s great to see guys you’ve won with before and I think that is a pretty big bonus in the dressing room.”
Kane, a Vancouver native, travels home to visit his pals every summer to reconnect and catch-up.
“There are a lot of guys from that team that still get together every year at the Giants’ golf tournament and a lot of guys are still out in Vancouver in the summers training,” said Kane. “We definitely still stay close.”
McArdle, who was acquired by the Giants midway through the 2006-07 season from the Moose Jaw Warriors, says that his time with the organization is something he’ll cherish forever.
“The organization is run as close to a professional organization as you can,” says McArdle. “I think anytime that you win a championship weather you’re young or old, in junior or in pro, it’s always something that keeps you close.
“It was pretty special for me. That’s my home, and to be able to win a championship in my hometown in front of 16,000 people I think is something that you’ll always cherish.
It was the moment when Spencer Machacek
scored the empty net goal to make it 3-1. Once that happened, that’s when it really set in. You couldn’t get those seconds to count any quicker. I tried to take a breath and just take it all in. It’s definitely one of my proudest hockey moments.”
All four Giants alumni described coach Don Hay to be a tough, hard-nosed coach who expects a lot but to also be one of the most rewarding coaches to have ever played for.
“I don’t think there is anyone that’s not going to say that he isn’t a hard coach,” said McArdle. “He expects a lot but I think that is why he has done so well and why you can say that it’s almost like a professional organization. You’re held accountable and you’re treated with the upmost resect as well. He’s a hard-nosed coach but he has the ability to get top players to play at the top of their game.”
Hay is known for his great coaching tactics both on, and off the ice.
“He would always teach us about how to be professional and help us give us that extra step to get to the next level,” said Machacek. “He puts ownership on you to grow up quicker and it definitely helped. I owe a lot of where I am today, to that organization.”
All four boys have grown into men and have reached the highest level of hockey. They will always look back and thank the ones who helped them along their journey of success.
“There are a lot of good friendships and bonds that I made through that organization, I owe a lot of who I am to them.” – Brett Festerling