The Nanaimo Clippers climbed so close as runners-up for the cup last season.
As the 2015-16 B.C. Hockey League campaign begins, the Clippers are going back to the beginning in some ways. But they look forward to what’s ahead as they try to take a step further.
“Some of the guys have maybe a bitter taste from last year, coming so close…” said Sheldon Rempal, Clippers forward. “All the returning guys can feel that we have a good enough team here to get back there and win.”
It’s still early September, and the cup won’t be awarded anytime soon. But starting Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 12-13) on the road against the Powell River Kings, the Clippers can start winning some games and putting themselves in position, said Mike Vandekamp, the team’s coach and general manager.
“We know we’re going to make mistakes early in the season, that’s normal,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we’re playing with lots of spirit and lots of passion. And as the season goes along, if we stay committed to the whole program we’ll learn how to play a stronger team game as we go.”
Yanni Kaldis, all-star defenceman, said practices this fall have been intense and said everyone’s been working hard.
“So I think we’re definitely ready for it to start…” he said. “That’s what you’ve been waiting for all summer and it’s finally getting here.”
Here’s a look at this year’s Nanaimo Clippers:
Leading the group of returning forwards is Rempal, who led the Clippers with 29 goals last year. The creative, competitive winger is capable of 35-40 in his last year of junior.
“I know it’s a big number, but it’s always fun to see what I can do year after year,” he said.
The Clippers expect another returning vet, Devin Brosseau, to bounce back with a big year after being limited by injury in 2014-15.
Two newcomers who slot into the top six are Matt Hoover, a feisty, two-way forward, and Chris Dodero, who showed scoring punch in the pre-season and brings, speed, skill and tenacity. Other new faces include D.J. Petruzzelli, another all-around forward who is making the transition from midget, and Matt Creamer, a power forward who will be able to score.
Returnee Brendan Shane could surprise fans as he gets a chance to play a larger role.
Vandekamp said the Clippers will stress defence-first hockey and trust that goals will come through hard work at both ends of the rink.
The Clippers have the luxury of being able to ice a six-man defence corps of returning players, if they so choose.
“We have a lot of vets back there,” Kaldis said. “We should be able to take care of things while the forwards get some chemistry going, figure out the lines completely. Until they get going, we should be able to hold the other teams down to only a couple goals a game.”
Kaldis was the league’s second-highest-scoring defenceman a year ago, and along with Edwin Hookenson, Kale Bennett and Ryan Coghlan – all of them impactful at both ends of the ice – it makes for a potentially potent top four.
The other returnees are Jordan Low and Sean Buchanan.
Newcomer Adam Pilotte brings skating, compete level and a lot of upside, and he and Louis-Philippe Pagé can anticipate a share of the minutes on the blueline.
“I think [defence] is the strength of our team, but it’s a hard position to play and first-year players have to adapt and adjust,” the coach said.
Jonathan Reinhart was brought in early in the off-season to be the starting goalie. The Clippers like the netminder’s size, work ethic and maturity.
“We expect him to do well,” Vandekamp said.
There were still three goalies on the roster at press time, but Jakob Walter is expected to make up the other half of Nanaimo’s goaltending tandem.
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) September 9, 2015