For the first time in more than two weeks, the Vancouver Giants are practicing in preparation for their Friday matchup against Prince George, airing on TSN at 7 p.m. Pacific.
Ahead of the contest, the CHL sat down with Giants captain Justin Sourdif to discuss his junior career, being drafted by the Florida Panthers, the opportunity to represent Team Canada at the World Juniors, and his preparation for Friday’s tilt against the Cougars:
CHL: How have you grown as a player over your four seasons?
Justin Sourdif: I have grown quite a bit from where I was when I was 16. (It has) been a maturity process, on and off the ice. I had the opportunity to learn from some older guys on our team that are really good role models for me to kind of show me what it means to be a leader on how to help a team jell or carry a team.
CHL: What did it mean to you to be named captain of the Giants?
JS: I was asked about that at the beginning of the season, and I said it was something that I didn’t take lightly. It is an awesome opportunity for me to be able to lead and to help out the younger guys. But, regardless of wearing the ‘C’ on my chest, I was planning on (leading) in my last season. I have tried to help out the younger guys, help out anybody. I try to do the best to help the team win, and I guess the best way to do that is as captain.
CHL: What is the biggest message you’re giving to some of the younger guys?
JS: The biggest message I would say is work hard. The WHL is a good league. It’s a good opportunity to grow your game. Try not to get frustrated or upset. There are going to be lots of ups and downs throughout your junior career. Sticking with it and asking for help when needed is probably the best advice I could give to younger guys coming into the league.
CHL: How often do you talk to the Florida Panthers and what do they want to see from you?
JS: They want to see me compete like I usually do, to work very hard, and to work on some skill plays like stick-handling and shooting. I know they want me to shoot more, as I do myself. I am going to try to create more chances for myself within the game and shoot the puck a little more. I also would say work on skating as, at the NHL level, skating is probably the best attribute you can have. Being a fast, explosive skater, that is something I really want to work on too in the second half.
CHL: We were talking to a future teammate of yours, Braden Haché of the Kingston Frontenacs, and he mentioned a roundtable at Panthers camp this year where they had some players pick the brains of some veterans like Joe Thornton, Patric Hornqvist, Greg Campbell, and the coach, Joel Quenneville. Were you part of that as well?
JS: I was part of that. The other prospects and I had an unbelievable opportunity to talk to those guys. They had a bunch of advice and wisdom. We just sat there and listened and then had the opportunity to ask them a few questions. When you get an opportunity like that, you take advantage of it and you can reflect.
CHL: What was the biggest takeaway from talking to guys like Thornton and Stanley Cup champions in Hornqvist, Campbell, and Quenneville?
JS: Thornton was a first-overall pick and has been in the league forever and Hornqvist was one of the last picks, if not the last pick in his draft year. Both of them have had such great careers up to this point. ‘Jumbo’ is also an Olympic gold medalist and has had a super decorated career. Hornqvist won all of those Stanley Cups with the Penguins and is an unbelievable player as well. It just shows that two different guys from where they were picked (in the Draft) are still able to play on the same team and have very good careers. As much as Thornton going first overall is huge, it still shows that if you’re drafted later, it is not over and you can still have a chance to make the NHL, and just work day in and day out.
CHL: Is it cool to see a guy like Thornton who at his age and the amount of time he has spent in the league still having fun and enjoying it?
JS: It is awesome to see. ‘Jumbo’ is a guy that comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face who loves to be around the guys. That is the type of energy I feel you need on a team to succeed, by having guys who are upbeat and ready to go all the time. When I was speaking to Haché, he had the chance to go out for lunch with Thornton. It was awesome to see him get that knowledge from him as a role model.
CHL: What were some of your goals for this season?
JS: The end goal is to win the Memorial Cup and our league. It will be a lot of tough games to win from now until then. Individually, I just try to do what I can to help the team win. If the team needs me to score, then that is what I have to do, or defend by killing penalties and (helping out) on power plays. I just try to have a well-rounded game. We also have other guys who can get points for us too as well as good shut-down guys. I try not to set anything too high (for statistical goals) because I do not want it to become a selfish task. I just try to take it game by game.
CHL: You appeared in one game at the World Juniors before the tournament was shut down. What were the experiences like being named to the team and getting to put on that jersey?
JS: It’s every kid’s dream to make the World Juniors team and play in the tournament. I had an unbelievable opportunity to play in even that one game. It is something that I’ll never forget. It’s something I dreamed of as a kid watching the World Juniors every Christmas.
CHL: Was there anyone that you were excited to play with at the World Juniors or practice with or just pick their brains on different things?
JS: None for picking their brains but just normal questions I asked guys. I would say playing with Connor Bedard. I sometimes skate with him in the summer, so it’s kind of cool to be on the same team as him and finally get a chance to play with him, and then a few other guys like Cole Perfetti. I played with him at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, so it was nice to reconnect with him as well as Jake Neighbours, Ridly Greig, and Kaiden Guhle who were also part of that team. It was nice to play with them instead of against them for a couple of games there.
CHL: What are the strengths of the Giants?
JS: I think we are coming together as a team. When (Giants coach) Mike Dyck and I were away (at the World Juniors) things weren’t too good, but that happens with teams. You’ll go through your ups and downs. We have strong goaltending, a pretty good defence core, and the forward group is really good. We got Cole Shepard back, which is nice to see. He is a good buddy of mine and he solidifies our offense. I like the way our team looks and I do not think we have to make any changes. I think we can go on a fairly deep playoff run when we’re playing our game. I like the team we have and I think we can do great things.
CHL: On Friday, it’s the CHL’s first night being featured on TSN. The Giants are the second game of a doubleheader. How exciting is it to be one of those first games on TSN?
JS: I think it is pretty cool. Being on TSN, we have a lot of young guys who will know that we are playing a big game. It’s just about not being nervous, even when you have more eyes on you than usual. It is a really exciting opportunity and our team will be ready to go.
CHL: You have already played in a TSN game before with the World Juniors, so what do you say to your teammates who haven’t played in one of those big, nationally televised games before? What is your message as the captain?
JS: Just play it as a normal game. When I go out there and I play, it’s just another hockey game. When you’re going on to the ice and there are stands filled with people, I usually do not pay attention to that after warmups. Afterward, it’s just a hockey game. You do not recognize how many people are around you until there is a big goal, and then you hear the cheers. I would not focus too much on that or the people watching on TSN. I would tell the young guys to just stick with it, to not worry about it, and to play like they normally would.
CHL: The Giants have not played in more than two weeks now. How do you make sure that you get off to a good start?
JS: Be ready and do a hard warm-up, make sure you are sweating, and be mentally prepared. It’s not going to be the easiest game in the sense that we have not played in a bit. Pucks might be bouncing, stick-handling might be off. We have had only two practices beforehand, so I would say just stick with it, be confident, don’t hang your head, and do not get frustrated as that is the worst thing you can do.
CHL: This is going to be the Giants’ eighth time playing the Cougars this year. What do you know about them?
JS: They have really good goaltending, a few talented defencemen, and a very young team up front. They are very skilled and tough to play against and very physical. They don’t go away and keep playing really hard. They are a team that can surprise you and steal a game. They have some offense from their defence core. Their young players who have recently come up into the league are doing well for them. It’s a tough team to play against and you cannot take them lightly on any night.
CHL: The midterm rankings just came out and Prince George’s goalie, Tyler Brennan, was named the top North American goaltender. How do you game plan for one of the top goalies in the league?
JS: We need to get a lot of shots and screens on him because if he sees it, he will save it. He’s a big and very skilled goaltender. You have to get in front of him and pepper him with shots. If we can get 35-plus shots on him, I like the odds of a few of them going in, and maybe if we are on the powerplay or some back door plays. He will stop anything he sees and it will be a tough game as he is a very good goaltender.
CHL: Why should fans tune it to watch the Giants vs. Cougars on TSN?
JS: I think we have really good players on our team who can show case some of their skills and speed. There are pretty entertaining players to watch on both teams. I think it should be a fast-paced game. I feel like with the guys knowing it is a TSN game, a lot of guys in our room will use that as motivation and (added) energy to just come out and be ready to play. They will be excited to play.