The first games of 2014 were indicative of what this winter will be like for the Nanaimo Clippers.
Close games and tight-checking hockey were the order of the day on a road trip to the Interior as the Clippers ended up with a win, a loss and a tie against the Salmon Arm SilverBacks, Vernon Vipers and West Kelowna Warriors, respectively.
The Clips doubled up the Gorillas 2-1 on Friday, lost 3-2 to the Snakes the next night and tied 2-2 at Westside on Sunday afternoon.
“We thought we could have won all three games,” said Dave Johnston, assistant coach of the Clippers. “But having said that, we played some of the top teams in our league and from our perspective, it reaffirms that we’re right there with the best teams in the league.”
Sometimes the first games back from the holiday break can be sleepy, so a road trip to tough buildings was the right kind of tonic.
“It was good timing and a great opportunity for us to get back together and be on the road,” Johnston said.
The Clippers needed a period against the SilverBacks to shake off rust, but played well from then on.
Anthony Sabitsky and Sheldon Rempal each had a goal and an assist and Jayson Argue was the game’s first star with 26 saves.
On Saturday, the home team struck out to a 3-0 lead through 40 minutes but the Clippers made things interesting with third-period goals from Brendan Taylor and Bo Brauer. Tanner Kovacs took the ‘L’ in goal as Nanaimo outshot Vernon 40-27.
The Shipmen came very close to sailing home with a second win on the road trip, as they led the Warriors 2-0 with just over a minute to go.
“They did come at us very hard. They’re a very good team,” Johnston said. “We need to be able to manage that situation a little better as we go forward … we were in fire drill mode.”
Devin Brosseau and Eric Margo scored for the Clippers and Argue made 49 saves.
“It was very reminiscent of what a playoff game will be like, with a lead late into the third period and an empty net and them trying to score to make it go to overtime,” the assistant coach said.
GAME ON … The Clippers host the Merritt Centennials this Friday (Jan. 10) at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena, then visit the Powell River Kings the next night.