Ty Thorpe couldn’t do it. He couldn’t tag the Vancouver Giants’ match-up Friday as just another game.
Vancouver is home that night to the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team for which Thorpe not only played his first three Western Hockey League regular seasons, but also the club he grew up watching as a Brandon, Man., native.
“I definitely want to have a good showing,” the 20-year-old centre said of his first-ever contest against the Wheat Kings. “It will be nice to see some old teammates.
“It’s not just another game.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s Vancouver’s first game against an Eastern Conference foe since the Giants scored a 6-5 decision on their Langley Events Centre home ice over the Calgary Hitmen on Feb. 21, 2000.
Thorpe maintains he doesn’t have a “chip on his shoulder” about the Wheat Kings, that he’s grateful for what the club did for him. He did ask for a trade after the abbreviated 2020-21 season, reasoning that he needed something different.
They obliged, sending him to Vancouver in an August 2021 deal in exchange for a conditional sixth-round pick in the 2023 WHL Draft.
Vancouver general manager Barclay Parneta said he scouted Thorpe several times coming up through the ranks and felt he had more to give at the WHL level.
Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Vancouver Giants
7:30 p.m., Langley Events Centre. Radio: AM 730.
Thorpe has flourished in Vancouver. He played in all situations last year, recording 16 goals and 44 points in 62 regular season games. He’s doing the same again so far this season with three goals and six points through six games.
He had 10 goals and 30 points in his 136 games with the Wheat Kings.
For the record, that conditional sixth rounder has become a fifth rounder because Thorpe has landed one of the Giants’ three 20-year-old spots this year. That trade still looks like one of Parneta’s better ones.
“It was a little weird being traded,” the 6-foot, 180-pound Thorpe said. “You had always known Brandon. You grew up there. You lived at home. It was definitely a big change for me, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I was super fortunate to come here.”
Thorpe’s family had Wheat Kings season tickets when he was growing up. Winger Matt Calvert, who played three seasons with the Wheat Kings (2007-10) before moving on to the NHL, was one of Thorpe’s favourite players back then.
Thorpe’s teammates in minor hockey included goaltender Trent Miner, who would go on to play for the Giants. Parneta used Miner as a reference call when he was deciding on the Thorpe trade.
It was the Victoria Royals, rather than Brandon, who picked Thorpe in the 2017 WHL Draft, using a third-round selection to secure his rights. Victoria dealt him to the Wheat Kings at the 2018 trade deadline in a blockbuster deal that brought the Royals veteran forward Tanner Kaspick.
“It’s going to be exciting for him,” Giants goalie Jesper Vikman, who billets at the same home as Thorpe for a second straight season, said of Thorpe getting to face the Wheat Kings.
“A lot of the guys in the dressing room, it’s their first game against a team on the Eastern side, so it will be fun for them, too.”
There was no crossover between Western and Eastern Conference teams last season until the WHL championship series, when the Edmonton Oil Kings beat the Seattle Thunderbirds in six games. In 2020-21, teams played abbreviated schedules in smaller, even more regional groups.
“I think now that we’re playing them this week, it’s setting in that there’s a whole other side to the league. It’s not just the 10 teams (in the West),” centre Zack Ostapchuk said.
Friday’s visit to the LEC is Brandon’s third match-up in an eight-game road trip. The Giants’ last game against Brandon was a 3-0 loss on the road on Oct. 4, 2019. Brandon’s last visit to the Giants was a 3-2 Vancouver shootout win on Oct. 28, 2018. Brayden Watts scored the winner in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.
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