Clippers relish road trip

Nanaimo Clippers to play Coquitlam Express, Westside Warriors and Trail Smoke Eaters.

Nanaimo Clippers forward Kyle Kramer

Enough with these 40-minute road trips, say the Nanaimo Clippers.

It’s all well and good to play a road game in Duncan or Port Alberni and be back home by bedtime. But at the B.C. Hockey League season’s midway mark, the Clippers (14-11-0-5) could use a rallying point and it’s arrived this week in the form of a three-game road swing leading into the Christmas break.

“We’ve got to get out on the road here with the team, actually spend some time out on the road together…” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach. “That’s one of the things we don’t get to do here, enough.”

Nanaimo played on the mainland against the Coquitlam Express on Wednesday after press time, and takes on the Westside Warriors tonight (Dec. 15) in West Kelowna. On Saturday the Clips face the Trail Smoke Eaters in the Kootenays.

“It’s going to be a little bit different,” said Ryan Wells, Clippers defenceman. “We haven’t been on the road in a while and the attitude kind of changes because all the guys are together, we’re always thinking about hockey.”

Vandekamp said the structured itinerary of a road trip is beneficial.

“You tend to focus more on the games because you’re around your teammates all the time, you just tend to be talking more about the game,” he said.

The coach said he thinks road trips are good for team chemistry, and players suggested the same. Team captain Trevor Fitzgerald said road trips are a bonding experience and defenceman Josh Bryan said the Clippers, already a close-knit team, will only be more so on the road.

“You start having fun with each other, but then you get down to it – everyone’s on the same page, everyone’s focused on hockey,” he said.

Along with their hockey bags, the Clippers were able to pack some good feelings with them on the bus after a strong effort in their last game, a 4-1 loss Sunday to the BCHL’s first-placed Penticton Vees.

The loss stung, but a couple of days later the Clips were already looking at it as a learning experience and confidence builder.

“We did play a good game, probably one of our better ones of the year,” said Fitzgerald. “In the end it was mistakes that we made that cost us the game, not necessarily being the weaker team.”

Bryan said Sunday’s game reinforced the importance of preparation, being ready to start a game with a high energy and compete level.

“It’s good to be able to see what’s out there and know that we were with them the whole time, so if we play like that against any other team, we can beat them,” he said.

So this road trip, against three teams with worse records than Nanaimo, represents a prime opportunity to pick up points in the standings.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit lately; we’re a little under our goal,” said Fitzgerald. “Three big wins on this road trip would be huge and it would set things up for being in a good spot after Christmas.”

The Clippers know the holidays are around the corner; they hear the carols playing, they smell the gingerbread at their billet homes. So a road trip is perfect, they say, to get away from the distractions and go win some hockey games.

“It’s kind of been disappointing lately, we’ve had a couple overtime losses. We’re right there. We’re almost being super successful,” Bryan said. “So to get six points on this road trip would be huge for us heading into Christmas. We’ll have a good feeling and then come back, be rejuvenated.”

ICE CHIPS … The Clips and Warriors play at 7 p.m. tonight (Dec. 15); Saturday’s game against the Smokies is a 7:30 p.m. start … The Clippers are selling special stocking stuffer ticket packages. Eight-game flex packs, good for any eight regular-season games, cost $90 for adults, $80 for seniors, $60 for students and $40 for kids. Also available are family packs, which include four tickets, four hotdogs and four pops for $45. Call 250-751-0593 for more information.

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