Clippers enter special season

Nanaimo’s BCHL team takes the ice for its home opener this Saturday (Sept. 15) when the Powell River Kings come to Frank Crane Arena.

Nanaimo Clippers captain Trevor Fitzgerald

Nanaimo Clippers captain Trevor Fitzgerald

No matter what, the Nanaimo Clippers’ 40th anniversary season will be a special one. Now it’s up to the players, coaches and fans to make it the best it can be.

The city’s B.C. Hockey League team takes the ice for its home opener this Saturday (Sept. 15) when the Powell River Kings come to Frank Crane Arena.

The Kings are a top-notch opponent, and they won’t be the last high-calibre foe to skate at Frank Crane in 2012-13 – hockey season in Nanaimo will culminate next spring with the Western Canada Cup tournament.

In the meantime, the Clippers are off to a 1-1 start this BCHL season, and are showing positive indications.

“We have a good level of spirit and enthusiasm, that’s for sure, a passionate group that is excited to play the game,” said Mike Vandekamp, coach and general manager of the Clippers.

He said he thinks fans will notice some of those traits from the stands, and said they can also expect to see a hard-working team.

“Junior hockey will always have a certain level of entertainment to it and there’s good players on the ice on both teams and the games are always spirited,” he said. “But if anything, you want to come down to the rink and know that your home team put its heart on the line.”

Here’s a look at the 2012-13 Nanaimo Clippers:

FORWARDS

The Clippers expect to be able to create offence primarily through hard work.

“I think we’ll be a team that can score off of the forecheck and creating turnovers and scoring goals off of the cycle and through wearing other teams down in the offensive zone,” Vandekamp said.

That said, he thinks some of his players can really shoot the puck, and there are some big bodies, too, who won’t shy away from the front of the net.

Veteran leaders Kyle Kramer, Trevor Fitzgerald and Brenden Forbes will be three players looked to for offence, and the coach expects all the vets to show statistical improvement from a year ago, mentioning also Luke Gordon, Jesse Neher and Mason Blacklock.

Michael McNicholas and Reid Sturos are two newcomers who will be counted on offensively. Kevin Miller, Taylor Grobowski and Stephen Hladin should also find the scoresheet.

Vandekamp doesn’t tend to stick to strict line combinations.

“We really believe in the depth of our team and plan on using our team accordingly,” he said. “So I don’t think you’ll see a vast difference in ice time from one player to the next.”

DEFENCEMEN

The philosophy will be the same with Nanaimo’s defencemen – the coach envisions rolling through all his defensive pairings every game.

On Vandekamp’s Clippers, defence is a team effort and the blueliners have a specific role within that structure.

“They’re there to defend and that’s what we want, is people who can defend first and believe in that, keep it simple back there and move the puck up to the forwards, join the rush and keep it simple,” the coach said.

Josh Bryan will be a reliable minute man for the Clippers. Fellow vet David Iacono is capable offensively but has also grown his all-around game. Colton Dahlen, another returnee, has looked steady and newcomer Chris Rygus is a big, strong warrior on D.

GOALTENDERS

The Clippers made a major trade in the off-season to acquire No. 1 goalie Jayson Argue, and he has rewarded them with a solid start.

“He’s a little bit old-school and exciting…” said Vandekamp. “It’s nice to see a guy that plays the game his own way.”

Connor LaCouvee earned the backup job out of training camp, but this week the Clippers brought in a third netminder, Jarrod Schamerhorn. The newcomer, fresh off a major junior camp, is a youngster who might help the Clips fulfill the league rules of two 17-year-old players.

GAME ON

The Powell River Kings are the Coastal Conference’s defending champions, and have iced teams in recent years that are strong at all positions.

“We had real tight games with them last year and I think that both teams pride themselves on working hard,” said Vandekamp. “And I think both teams probably put the defensive side of the game first, which tends to lend to a competitive and spirited game where scoring opportunities are maybe a little more difficult to come by at both ends.”

Win or lose, the Clippers are likely to be the best-dressed team on the ice. The team will unveil new-look jerseys that are receiving positive reviews thus far.

“I like our new look a lot,” Vandekamp said.

The teams face off at 7 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 15) at Frank Crane Arena … A limited number of tickets will be given away free at Save-On-Foods locations Friday (Sept. 14) from 5-7 p.m. in exchange for a donation to Loaves and Fishes community food bank …Single-game tickets this season will be $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for students, $8 for children ages six-12 and free for kids five and under. For season ticket info, please click here.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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