Vancouver Giants aim to attract NHL-deprived hockey fans

By Hosea Cheung, 24 hours Vancouver

The opportunity to entice more fans is there for the Vancouver Giants.

Playing in a hockey-crazed market, the Western Hockey League team knows they can fill the void left by a potentially long NHL lockout. While off-ice initiatives like lowering ticket prices and donning of retro jerseys help, it comes down to the on-ice product -meaning the Giants want to start their new season with a strong push.

"Obviously with the NHL having a lockout, we're hoping more fans come out to our games here in Vancouver," forward Cain Franson said Wednesday. "They need to watch their hockey. We want to have a good year and that will only help our situation with the lockout being in hand."

The Giants are coming off a season where they finished fourth in the Western Conference with a 40-26-2-4 record before being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Spokane Chiefs. As they get set for their home opener Friday night at the Pacific Coliseum against the Victoria Royals, Franson stresses that this year's team will rely more on a group scoring effort and a deeper squad to pump out wins.

"We got a team that's going to be overlooked," said the 19-year-old centre, who is entering his third campaign with the Giants. "We have a lot of guys that have a lot of potential. It's their second or third year in the league now and they are getting the hang of things. If we stick to the system and do what the coach says, we'll surprise a lot of people."

That system - the coach Don Hay system - is all about a strong work ethic and playing a physical game. The team won't stray far from that this season as Hay enters his seventh year behind the Vancouver bench.

For Franson, the situation is set for him to succeed. With the departure of top scorers Brendan Gallagher and Jordan Martinook, the Sicamous, B.C., native - along with Marek Tvrdon - will be called upon to lead the Giants offence. And as a player passed over twice in the NHL draft, the 176-pound centre feels he has more to prove this time around after putting up 58 points in 70 games last season.

"I want to win something in my junior career and to have something to show for it," he said, adding he wouldn't be where he is today without his brother, Cody, a former Giants defenceman and current member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "Every year you want to improve, and having the year that I did last year is only going to bring on more expectations this season. I'm going to try my best to lead the way. There are holes to be filled and I want to show guys I can do that."