The Nanaimo Clippers put themselves in strong contention this fall, and have a lot to look forward to the rest of the way.
The city’s junior A hockey club finished 2014 with a 6-0 win against the Cowichan Valley Capitals on Saturday in Duncan. The Clips take a 24-11-0-1 record into the holidays, along with a comfortable lead atop the B.C. Hockey League’s Island Division.
“We wanted to get off to a blazing start and kind of create some confidence within our group and then raise our expectations as we go, and I think that’s exactly what’s happened,” said Mike Vandekamp, the team’s coach.
Coaches hope that players have high expectations every season, he said, but it’s harder to create that belief without the results on the ice.
“We’ve had success, and I think that’s created a sense of belief in the group that we can take this thing a long way this year,” Vandekamp said.
The 2014-15 season started with back-to-back barnburner losses, but the Clippers took those as lessons and got better.
“After that, we started to make some strides,” the coach said.
The Shipmen managed to keep up their high-scoring ways while steadily lowering their goals-against average.
“That’s something that we’ve really focused on, because I think it’s extremely important at playoffs and the latter stages of the season that we are a strong, structured team,” the coach said.
Just like every other BCHL squad, the Clippers have had injuries, but they’ve had the depth to deal with adversity and haven’t made excuses, or needed to.
“It’s forced other players to step up and play a greater role and that’s been really good for their development,” said Vandekamp. “Long-term, I think it will create a sense of confidence in all of our players that they can all contribute.”
That said, the holiday break comes at a good time – Nanaimo’s next game isn’t until Jan. 2, giving most of the guys enough time to get back healthy.
Another storyline heading into the new year is the Jan. 10 trade deadline. Vandekamp, also the club’s general manager, said the team tries to go for it every year, but said there’s perhaps an “exclamation point” this season considering the Clippers’ place in the standings.
“There’s no guarantee that we’re going to win everything, but you’ve got to give yourself every opportunity to do that, I guess,” he said. “We’re always cognizant of the future and I think that’s important when you’re managing a team, but at the same time, you want to live in the now as much as you can.”
Goalie Guillaume Decelles earned his first BCHL shutout on Saturday in Duncan. Brendan Taylor had two goals and two assists and other scorers were Anthony Rinaldi, Nick Guerra, Jacob Hanlon and Nick Gushue.
The night before, the Caps edged the Clips 5-4 with two goals in the last five minutes of the game. Cole Maier scored a pair for Nanaimo, Brett Roulston and Guerra also tallied and Jesse Neher, a former Clippers player, scored a hat trick for the Capitals. Jakob Severson tended goal for the Shipmen.
GAME ON … The Clippers visit the Chilliwack Chiefs on Jan. 2 and return to home ice Jan. 10, when they host the Coquitlam Express at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena.