Chris Wahl – 11.04.24

Sam Honzek and Jaden Lipinski aren’t done just yet.

The pair of Vancouver Giants forwards are ready to make an impression with the Calgary Wranglers – arriving in town this week after their WHL club’s season came to a close last weekend.

The junior teammates were both selected by the Flames in last year’s NHL Draft – Honzek in the first round, Lipinski in the fourth – and now they’ll have a chance to build on their time together on the West Coast as the Wranglers prepare for the AHL playoffs.

“It’s pretty good to see familiar faces from the beginning of the season,” Honzek said Thursday morning. “I’m really glad I can be here, to join the guys pre-playoffs for some games, I’m going to enjoy it.”

Limited to just 33 games during the regular season, Honzek collected 31 points as a Giant in 2023-24 – while also representing his native Slovakia at the World Juniors.

Lipinski, meanwhile, held a share of the team lead with 66 points for Vancouver, while also winning close to 900 duels in the face-off dot.

“It’s nice coming back here, seeing the guys again that we saw at the start of the year,” Lipinski added. “They’re all so professional, coming up to us and making us feel right at home.

“Really excited to be here, we didn’t end too well in Vancouver but we get to be here, and that’s always a great thing.”

Their Vancouver squad ran into a stingy Everett Silvertips team in the first round of the WHL post-season. The Giants won Game 1 – thanks in part to a Honzek goal and a trio of Lipinski assists – but ended up dropping their best-of-seven series 4-1.

For both Honzek and Lipinski, it was a tough way to end their junior season, but both learned valuable lessons about leadership over the course of the campaign.

Honzek was named Giants captain in November, a role he didn’t take lightly.

“It was an honour for me, kind of a lot of pressure to be honest,” he said, “but other good players like Jaden helped me a lot along the way, I’m glad for everyone who helped me. It was a big responsibility.”

“We had to take big steps, be leaders, we were both older guys in the league,” agreed Lipinski, who also served as part of Vancouver’s leadership group. “It was nice playing that role, getting a lot of minutes; I think it just helped with my development.

“It’s more than just the points, I think the development staff here did a really good job of establishing an identity for me; that was kind of the main focus, just trying to play the same way throughout the entire season.”

As Wranglers, the goal for both will be to play games, but Honzek and Lipinski are part of a deep lineup in Calgary.

Wranglers head coach Trent Cull figures the pair will have the opportunity to make an impact – along with other recent additions in defencemen Etienne Morin and Joni Jurmo, and forward Parker Bell, who got into his first AHL game of the season last Friday in Bakersfield.

“Really, I think it’s kind of up to them, what their role is, or becomes,” Cull said Wednesday. “They’re going to get a chance to practice, they have to practice well. In essence, as of right now we have 10 defencemen on the ice, we have five lines of forwards, so they’ve got to beat somebody else out of a job.

“We’re trying to win, we’re trying to be successful, that’s the environment that we want to expose them to.”

Honzek says his focus will be on cracking the Wranglers lineup, either over the course of Calgary’s final four regular season games or into the Calder Cup playoffs, which start later this month

His longer-term goal? Making the club on a full-time basis in 2024-25.

Going from team captain in one dressing room, to one of the youngest players in the next is a daunting transition, but it’s a ride he’s thankful to have Lipinski along for.

“Basically, me and Jaden got drafted together, it’s a long journey for us, spending more time together, it’s huge,” Honzek explained. “We have each other’s back, especially in a new place like this and we can push each other.

“That’s really helpful from my side.”

Unlike Honzek, Lipinski has yet to put pen to paper on an entry-level contract, so he’s seeing this opportunity through a bit of a different lens.

The Arizonan is eligible – age-wise – to play professional hockey next fall.

And he’s bent on using this spring’s stint in the Stampede City as a chance to show Flames brass what he’s made of.

“Us both having the opportunity to be here next year, I think this is a great time to make an impression,” Lipinski said. “For myself, I have a lot of goals I want to hit like signing my first contract.

“It’s something to work towards, I’m just trying to be a sponge and soak it all in.”