The theme for the Nanaimo Clippers this year is change.
Now, the Clippers are heading into the locker room to change into their hockey gear, because the season is about to start.
The city’s B.C. Hockey League team opens the 2011-12 regular season with a pair of road games Friday (Sept. 23) and Saturday against the Powell River Kings.
“The players have been tremendous with their work ethic and their practice and their focus on trying to get better,” he said. “So we’re really pleased with the attitude of our team.”
Returning Clippers understand that things have changed. Veteran blueliner Graeme McCormack said Vandekamp is a defensively minded coach who demands great attention to detail.
“It’s a little bit different than what we had before, but it’s not a huge adjustment and I think we’re all buying into it,” he said.
Players say they’ve had to make some changes to how they play to work within a structure.
“Any coach you play for, you’re going to change your style of play to fit what he wants,” said Kyle Kramer, veteran forward. “We have full belief that it’s going to provide some wins so we have no problem doing that.”
The Clippers will play a defence-first style while trying to capitalize on whatever scoring chances they create.
“We want to find an identity being the most hard-working team in the league,” Kramer said. “I don’t think we found that over the exhibition season quite yet, but hopefully at the start of the season we can find that identity.”
Here’s a look at the 2011-12 Nanaimo Clippers:
The theme of change applies even to the Clippers’ line combinations.
“I’ll change the line combinations 27 times a game, so there’s no point talking about line combinations. We don’t have any,” Vandekamp said. “It will be totally dependent on who’s playing hard and who’s playing well.”
He likes to get all players significant minutes of ice time, he said.
“Definitely. And have the same expectations for all of our players, too,” said the coach. “I expect everybody’s going to play the same way. On the good teams, guys jump over the boards and they all look the same.”
Last year’s leading scorer Andrew Gladiuk is expected to again be an offensive catalyst, with speedy Kramer and Brayden Jaw two other important scoring threats. Trevor Fitzgerald is new to the Clippers, but is an experienced player and will also be looked upon for offence. The coach said he’ll expect veterans Colton Cyr, Brodie Jamieson and Brett Hartskamp to score goals and suggested rookies Tanner Clarkson and Jesse Neher are ready to contribute. Also in the mix on the forward lines is Tristan Lowenberger, though the hard-luck veteran is again recovering from injury.
“We’re going to have to get good performances out of the key people that have a history of being able to score at this level,” Vandekamp said. “We’re going to have to have a couple of our first-year players that step up and contribute quickly.”
The Clippers don’t view themselves as a high-end offensive team, so they’ll do whatever it takes to light the lamp.
“They’re not going to be the prettiest goals,” said Kramer. “We’re going to bang in rebounds and just throw pucks in the blue paint.”
The Clippers’ defence has seen its share of change – McCormack is the only returnee – and a rash of injuries have left the group shorthanded. Somehow, the D corps still managed to get better over the pre-season.
“Through the practices, meetings and the games, we’ve really started to come together as a unit and that will only get stronger,” McCormack said.
He and fellow 20-year-old Josh Phillips lead the defence, with BCHL veteran Josh Bryan and new offensive threat David Iacono other key members of the unit. Sean Flynn and Ryan Wells are injured defencemen who the coach would like to have in the lineup.
McCormack said the defence will be steady.
“I think what Mike wants from us is to be very engaged in the play, get up ice and contribute offensively, but really be steady and accountable in our own end.”
The Clippers have an all-new, all-American goaltending team this year with Billy Faust and Chris Eiserman manning the crease.
Faust is the opening-night starter, but Vandekamp said he views the goaltenders as a tandem, not a starter and a backup. Faust is a 20-year-old vet in the league and big Eiserman is a top prospect with an NCAA scholarship already in the bag.
The coach hopes goaltending can be a team strength.
“I think it has to be on any successful team…” he said. “Hopefully the team will gain confidence in their goaltenders. That’s really important.”
The Clippers and Powell River Kings play Friday (Sept. 23) and Saturday at Powell River. Both games are 7:30 p.m. puck drops at Hap Parker Arena. For a preview of the games, please check back at Clippers Central on Friday morning … The Clippers’ home opener will be Sept. 30 against the Cowichan Valley Capitals, a 7 p.m. start at Frank Crane Arena. For ticket information, call 250-751-0593.