Clippers drop two at home on weekend

NANAIMO – Injuries, weak goaltending contributing factors in losses against Merritt, Trail.

Key injuries to top forwards and goaltending that could have been stronger led to two home losses for the Nanaimo Clippers over the weekend against B.C. Hockey League Interior Division teams.

On Friday, the Trail Smoke Eaters blanked the Clips 4-0 at Frank Crane Arena while on Sunday, the Merritt Centennials handed Nanaimo a 5-2 loss.

“Our biggest issue right now is health,” said Mike Vandekamp, coach and GM for the Clippers. “We’ve just got a lot of key players out of the lineup and we just haven’t had enough time to react to those injuries.

“It certainly affected us this weekend, we’ve got four of our top six forwards out of the lineup. We lost two guys against Trail and by Sunday we were just a little bit decimated. “

Both Aaron Hadley and Greg Fraser were injured against Trail and did not return for the game against Merritt. They joined forwards Michael McNicholas, Brendan Forbes and defenceman Colton Dahlen on the sidelines.

Fraser is Nanaimo’s second top scorer so far this season with 13 goals and 28 assists. McNicholas has contributed 10 goals and 22 assists, Hadley has recorded 13 goals and 12 assists, while Forbes has eight goals and nine assists.

“These are possible long term, serious injuries to very good players,” said Vandekamp. “That is a lot of firepower not on the ice.”

Still, Nanaimo managed to outshoot both teams.

Against Merritt (25-12-1-3), the Clippers (23-17-0-2) outshot their opponent 37-32, but the Cents drew first blood in the first period when Silvan Harper beat Clips goalie Derek Dun to make it 1-0.

That score stood until early in the third period when Derek Huisman and Sebastien Pare scored at 1:23 and 3:32 respectively, to give Merritt a 3-0 lead.

Nanaimo didn’t respond until Mason Mitchell beat Cents goalie Tyler Steel with a power play goal midway through the period.

Merritt stretched its lead back to three goals four minutes later to secure the win, though Mitchell scored again late in the third.

Regan Soquila scored an empty net goal at 18:46.

Nanaimo didn’t register any penalties in the game.

Against Trail (20-25-0-2), Nanaimo outshot the Smoke Eaters 35-34 but ran into a hot goaltender in Adam Todd, who turned away every shot he faced.

Trail scored early in the first frame, beating starting Clips goalie Jayson Argue at the 4:02 mark. Scott Davidson and Braeden Pears made it 3-0 at the 7:03 mark of the second period, chasing Argue in favour of Dun, but the change didn’t help.

Sandler scored again shorthanded midway through the third period to ice the win.

Nanaimo went 0-for-5 on the power play while the Smoke eaters were 0-for-2.

“I didn’t think we had great goaltending this weekend in either game,” said Vandekamp. “I think those guys will need to step up and play better. In our league with good teams every night, you know, you need that solid goaltending.”

Nanaimo sits in second place behind Victoria (29-9-0-5) in the league’s Island Division, but Island rival Alberni Valley Bulldogs are nipping at their heels just two points behind in the standings.

The Clippers will try to regroup for a tilt against Prince George Friday (Feb. 1) at the Prince George Coliseum, followed by a rematch against Merritt Saturday at the Nicola Valley Arena.