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John Grisdale, commissioner of the B.C. Hockey League, announces that the Nanaimo Clippers will host the Canadian Junior A Hockey League's 2013 Western Canadian Championship.
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Nanaimo to host hockey Westerns

The Nanaimo Clippers are going to throw one heck of a bash for their 40th anniversary season.

The city’s B.C. Hockey League club was announced Monday as host of the Canadian Junior A Hockey League’s 2013 Western Canadian Championship.

It’s a brand-new playoff tournament in junior A hockey, replacing the Doyle Cup series that used to pit the BCHL champion against Alberta’s junior A champions. The Westerns, starting in late April, 2013, will be a five-team tourney involving the Clippers and the champions of the junior A leagues in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“It’s a really important stepping stone, I feel, for junior A in Canada. We are very, very excited…” said John Grisdale, BCHL commissioner.

“A lot of work went into it and the development of it. We wanted to find an event in junior A … where we could showcase the talent of our Western players and join together as four leagues.”

The top two teams at the tourney will advance to Royal Bank Cup nationals.

“I believe this tournament is going to be a great opportunity for all junior A hockey in the West to, I would say, finally send the true and best representatives to the Royal Bank Cup,” said Mike Vandekamp, coach and GM of the Clippers.

The Westerns could qualify, for example, two B.C. teams for the Royal Bank Cup, or a B.C. team and an Alberta team, which wasn’t always possible under the old Doyle Cup format.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to hopefully win our way to a Royal Bank Cup and hopefully there, have a chance to win a national championship,” Vandekamp said.

The Clippers get the opportunity because their bid was approved this month by the four league offices. B.C. was tabbed as the host of the inaugural 2013 tournament, and the Chilliwack Chiefs, Penticton Vees and Westside Warriors also expressed interest in hosting. But Grisdale said none of those three clubs followed through with the entire bid process and speculated that they understood just how badly the Nanaimo club wanted this tourney as part of its anniversary season.

“The Clipper organization has been a mainstay of the B.C. Hockey League for almost 40 years,” said the commissioner. “They’ve been a franchise that has always stepped up when asked and this is another occasion where that happened.”

Graham Calder, chairman of the tournament organizing committee, said Nanaimo’s bid was strengthened by the city’s experience hosting the 1998 Royal Bank Cup, the 2002 B.C. Summer Games and the 2007 B.C. Seniors Games.

“We have demonstrated time and time again that we have the capacity and enthusiasm to host important events such as this,” said Calder.

The city is well prepared, added Vandekamp.

“We have the facilities and the fan base and the volunteers and everybody aligned, I think, to host a wonderful event,” he said.

Grisdale said Frank Crane Arena is a “great facility” for big games.

“I’ve been in it when it’s been chock-a-block full and I’ve seen the enthusiasm that this community brings to the table,” said the commissioner.

Fans will see terrific hockey, with playoff-tested teams, almost all of them champions, facing off for the right to extend their spring.

The tourney runs from April 26-May 5, 2013, a time of year when not many junior A hockey players are still lacing up their skates.

“Not a lot of guys get to experience it and we’re pretty fortunate to be a part of it,” said Trevor Fitzgerald, captain of the Clippers.

He said the Westerns aren’t the focus right now for his team, and Vandekamp agreed that the Shipmen have “bigger fish to fry” as they concentrate on 2012, and their current playoff chase.

But the GM admitted that he’s known for some time that the Westerns were a possibility, so the tourney has factored, already, into his long-term planning with the Clippers roster.

“We have a lot of work to do to bring our team up to where we need it to be, because it’s our full intention on winning our way through to the tournament…” Vandekamp said.

“It’s exciting to know that there’s something out there for all of us as players and coaches to strive towards in 2013.”

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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