There’s nothing quite like the start of hockey season, say the Nanaimo Clippers.
The city’s junior A hockey club will bring fierce forecheckers, top-tier talent and high hopes into the 2014-15 B.C. Hockey League season, which gets underway Saturday (Sept. 20) in Chilliwack.
“It’s a really exciting time of year and all the guys are looking forward to playing our first game,” said Devin Brosseau, veteran forward.
Last season, a young Clippers team made it to the first round of the playoffs. Much of the core returns, complemented by intriguing additions at every position.
Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach, said the team’s goal and expectation is to take another step further in 2014-15.
“We want to finish as high as we can in the regular season, [and] we want to work towards winning a championship this year,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and we’ve got, obviously, a long ways to go, but that’s where our focus is.”
The Clippers were a high-scoring team in exhibition play, and should have good depth on their forward lines.
“There’s some speed and some strength,” said Vandekamp. “I think there’s going to be different styles of play from one line to the next.”
The team’s top three scorers from last year are all back, with Brendan Taylor, Sheldon Rempal and Devin Brosseau expected to be offensive leaders again this season.
Returning forwards Spencer Hewson, Jacob Hanlon, Ryan Forbes and Corey Renwick will play greater roles this year.
Among the newcomers, Anthony Rinaldi is fast and strong and was Nanaimo’s leading goal scorer in exhibition play. Jake Jackson, an NHL draft pick, is fast, skilled and entertaining. Cole Maier didn’t play in exhibition, but will be a good addition, said the coach. Nicolas Carrier scored a ton of points in junior college in Quebec last year and Brett Roulston played major junior the last two seasons.
Vandekamp said because of injury and transactions in the pre-season, the D corps is “a bit of an unknown,” but he thinks it will become a solid unit.
Big two-way defender Nick Gushue returns, along with fellow vets Austin Dick and Edwin Hookenson.
During the pre-season the Clips traded for Kale Bennett, a solid and experienced BCHL player who was team captain of the Surrey Eagles.
Rookie Yanni Kaldis will be another go-to guy on defence right away and should chip in some offence.
In goal, Guillaume Decelles, a veteran of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, will be the starter.
“Guillaume’s proven that he’s a leader, he wants to win,” said Vandekamp. “We really like the way he competes.”
Rookie Jacob Severson had a strong pre-season and has played beyond his years, said the coach.
The season starts with the BCHL Showcase tournament, but the Clippers want to showcase team play considering the points count in the standings.
“If you play well and you garner a little bit of attention from a college coach or whatever, that’s great, that’s a bonus,” Vandekamp said. “But it’s really about getting out there and winning those games.”
Obviously the Clippers want a strong start, said Brosseau.
“We’re going to have to be ready to go and be really fired up, excited about those first games because they’re important for us,” he said.
The Clippers play the Prince George Spruce Kings on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the Prospera Centre, then play the West Kelowna Warriors Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the same venue.
Nanaimo’s home opener is Sept. 26 when the Powell River Kings visit Frank Crane Arena. For season ticket information, please visit www.nanaimoclippers.com.
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) September 17, 2014