Nanaimo Clippers coach Mike Vandekamp wishes hockey season could start up again, right away – that’s how excited he is about this year’s group and its potential.
The city’s B.C. Hockey League moved to off-season mode after being eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by the Powell River Kings last week.
“The series was as close as hockey could be played, really,” said Vandekamp. “Did we make some mistakes along the way? Of course we did, that’s junior hockey, but we did compete really hard throughout the entire series.”
Scott Prier, team captain, said the Clippers thought they had the edge in the series after a 5-1 win in Game 3, but never managed to steal any of the games in Powell River to give themselves a chance.
“You don’t want to regret ever in hockey,” Prier said. “I think the guys played hard and it just didn’t go our way.”
So the Clippers basically played their best hockey in the playoffs and still got eliminated in five games. Some of that comes down to bounces and breaks, but the coach said his young team couldn’t quite become a “well-oiled machine” by the post-season.
“I’ve seen that and I’ve coached that team before and I felt like we were still learning that,” Vandekamp said. “As we play better as a team, the game almost becomes simple.”
A first-round playoff exit is the same outcome as a year ago, but the Clippers move forward now with a younger core.
“Since Mike’s been here, thowing the Western Canada Cup in the middle of it really changed the direction of rebuilding the program,” said Dave Johnston, assistant coach. “But I think this year was a blueprint for how we’re going to move forward.”
A veteran group of Clippers took a run at the Westerns last spring and then graduated from junior hockey, so 2013-14 was a fresh sheet of ice in a lot of ways.
“It was a slow start for us. At the end of the year we were winning and losing games, but the guys found their feet and they knew what they had to do,” Prier said.
Luke Sandler is the only forward graduating this year, but goalie Jayson Argue and Prier and fellow D-men Shay Laurent, Colton Dahlen and Josh McArdle will be moving on.
“[There is] a good group of guys to build this team next year and I think they’re going to be great,” Prier said.
Vandekamp will be off on the recruiting trail immediately, recognizing what pieces he already has in place.
“The first thing to do is to assess what our holes are and how we can best fill them with new recruits and new players,” he said. “And then, I think, assess our style of play and does it suit our team, and make sure there’s a fit there.”
He said talking to players in their exit meetings last week, he sensed that they are willing to work hard this off-season. The guys coming off their rookie BCHL seasons, he said, now have more confidence and experience.
“The season flew by,” Vandekamp said. “A lot of our players, that was their first year and it went by and they learned lots. Now we’ve got to keep rolling.”
The Clippers will head into 2014-15 with not only a strong core of players, but also a greater fan base. A free-admission-for-kids promotion was highly successful in boosting attendance at home games at Frank Crane Arena. It helped that there were a lot of one-goal games and overtime games this year, and that the Clippers were a workmanlike team more often than not.
“We certainly found a buzz in the building again, and we’re hoping that Nanaimo will rally around this group of kids that we have,” Vandekamp said. “We have a real fun core here coming back and they really, truly are good kids.
“If we can continue to build and grow, the people will hopefully keep coming out.”
All-star goalie Argue chosen MVP
The Nanaimo Clippers’ goalie made all the saves they could have asked him to, plus a lot more. Jayson Argue was chosen as the Clippers’ MVP on Thursday at the junior A hockey team’s year-end awards banquet at the Nanaimo Golf Club.
Sheldon Rempal was selected Rookie of the Year, Scott Prier was named Top Defenceman and the other major honour, the Lisa McPherson Award for heart, courage and dedication, went to Jacob Hanlon.
Nanaimo’s Brendan Taylor was presented with a trophy as the Clippers’ leading scorer for 2013-14 and also won the Most Exciting Player award.
Also honoured at the banquet were Corey Renwick, Coach’s Award; Anthony Sabitsky, Unsung Hero; Josh McArdle, Most Inspirational Player; Korey Morgan, Best Two-Way Player; Argue, Most Popular Player; Edwin Hookenson, Most Improved Player; and Spencer Hewson, Scholastic Player of the Year. Bill and Bob Green shared the Volunteer of the Year award.
Also at the banquet, the Clippers recognized their 20-year-old graduating juniors and thanked volunteers, billet families, corporate partners, sponsors, media and fans.