Alberni Valley Bulldogs goalie John Hawthorne makes a save as defenceman Tyler Lentz checks Nanaimo Clippers forward D.J. Petruzzelli during Wednesday’s BCHL pre-season game at Frank Crane Arena.

Alberni Valley Bulldogs goalie John Hawthorne makes a save as defenceman Tyler Lentz checks Nanaimo Clippers forward D.J. Petruzzelli during Wednesday’s BCHL pre-season game at Frank Crane Arena.

Clippers chart course toward season

Nanaimo’s BCHL club closes out its exhibition schedule with games against the Victoria Grizzles tonight (Sept. 2) and tomorrow.

The Nanaimo Clippers feel like they’re making the most of the time of year when wins and losses don’t much matter.

The city’s B.C. Hockey League club closes out its exhibition schedule with games against the Victoria Grizzles tonight (Sept. 2) and tomorrow.

Nanaimo lost its first three pre-season games, one against the Cowichan Valley Capitals and two against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, but the outcomes of those games were secondary.

“It’s not about the wins and losses, it’s just about evaluation and about trying to learn a little bit more as you go along, so you’re not going to hold players back,” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach and general manager, suggesting that players have had the freedom to be creative on the ice and try to showcase their skill sets.

So even though he’s liked the way the guys have played as far as forechecking and getting point shots and traffic, systems play hasn’t been the focus.

“We’ve tried to tell them not to be afraid to make mistakes and just try to show the best that we can and not worry about that side of it,” Vandekamp said. “We can learn as we go.”

Jamie Collins, Clippers forward, said the pre-season is about creating building blocks.

“At this point, we’re kind of just looking at the process, figuring out what we can do and figuring out what we need to do better,” he said.

Ben Solin, another forward on the Clippers, said losing the first three pre-season games doesn’t fit with the culture of the team. He said there have been flashes of brilliance, but also areas that need some work.

“We keep progressing and getting better, that’s really what we’re looking for in exhibition is just to build a team, build a strong team and bond [and] make some good chemistry on the ice,” Solin said.

It’s coming along. He said team captain Spencer Hewson and the other veterans and the coaches have made the newcomers feel welcome.

“And I think that’s a big part of being on the ice and being able to trust your linemates,” Solin said. “That’s only going to come with time, but I definitely think that moulding into this curriculum has been a lot faster than a lot of the different places I’ve played.”

The team will become closer as the final roster is chosen. Going into the weekend, there were still five or six cuts to make and Vandekamp said players were making his decisions difficult. He said it would impact his approach to the final exhibitions, as he wants to use the games for evaluation rather than fine-tuning.

“We’re going to have to go a little longer with a larger number of players to try to make the best possible decisions,” Vandekamp said.

GAME ON … The Clippers and Grizzlies play Friday at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena, then play a rematch Saturday down the Malahat. Nanaimo’s regular-season home opener is Sept. 9 when the Alberni Valley Bulldogs visit Frank Crane Arena for a 7 p.m. faceoff.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com