Vancouver Giants defenceman Matt Barberis (24) defends the goal against the Everett Silvertips in a WHL game. Barberis, from Surrey, is in his first season with the Giants.

First season ‘an eye-opener’

Surrey’s Matt Barberis enjoying his first season with Vancouver Giants

One would understand if Matt Barberis was frustrated the way his rookie season in the Western Hockey League will conclude.

The defenceman, a product of Semiahmoo Minor Hockey, has been sidelined for the past five weeks with a shoulder injury. And his team, the Vancouver Giants, have gone 3-7-2 (win-loss-overtime loss) in their past dozen games and will fall short of a playoff position.

But the 17 year-old was still able to crack a smile when asked about his first season with the Giants.

“It’s been awesome, so fun,” Barberis said. “The first year is the eye-opener. You’re young and you still have to learn a lot. So you take in as much as you can.”

Barberis has put up decent numbers in the 49 games he has played this season, scoring seven goals and adding 19 assists for 26 points. He is second among Giants defencemen in scoring, despite having missed the past 14 games.

But the numbers aren’t what the Surrey native focused on during his rookie season at the Major Junior level. It is his defensive play he is most concerned about.

“You have to hunker down in the d-zone,” he said. “You have to be tough in every aspect of the game. You are a defencemen at the end of the day, so you have to focus on the defense.”

Barberis is a minus-10 this season, a respectable plus/minus rating on a team which has allowed the most goals in the Western Conference, and one that is second-best among Giants defencemen with 40 or more games played.

“The points will come as you play, but you have to focus just on playing hockey,” said Berberis, adding that playing hockey means concentrating on the defensive aspect of the game.

But offense is what Barberis was known for in two seasons with the Valley West Hawks of the BC Hockey Major Midget League.

He was the dominant defenceman in the league last season, scoring 13 goals and 53 points in 35 games played. Ninth in overall scoring, he was the only defenceman among the top 25.

“It was good development,” Barberis said of his time with the Hawks. “(Valley West head coach) Jessie Leung was a good coach for me.”

n The Giants dropped a pair of games last weekend, falling 4-3 to the Kelowna Rockets on home ice Friday at the Pacific Coliseum, then  losing 4-2 on the road Saturday night to the Kamloops Blazers.

A three-goal second period powered the Rockets to the win Friday before a large crowd of 7,540. Kelowna opened the scoring, but a goal from Surrey’s Trevor Cox late in the first period and another from Radovan Bondra midway through the second had Vancouver ahead 2-1.

The Rockets responded with three goals in a six-minute span and took a 4-2 lead into the final 20 minutes. Bondra netted his second of the game on the powerplay to get the Giants to within a goal, but the home team couldn’t get a tying goal.

The Giants came close again in Kamloops, outplaying their hosts but coming up two goals short. The Blazers were up 2-0 before Bondra scored his third goal of the weekend to get Vancouver on the scoreboard. Kamloops restored the two-goal lead midway through the third period, then Cox scored with 65 seconds remaining to cut the difference to 3-2.

The Blazers, outshot 32-14 over the final 40 minutes, put the game out of reach with an empty net goal with 43 seconds remaining.

The Giants have four games on their schedule this week, starting with two games on the road against the Prince George Cougars yesterday (Tuesday) and today.

They then play the Victoria Royals twice, facing off at the Pacific Coliseum Friday at 7:30 p.m. and again Saturday night on Vancouver Island.