Clippers vet: ‘It’s there for the taking’

New forward Trevor Fitzgerald brings winning mindset to Nanaimo's junior A hockey club.

Nanaimo Clippers forward Trevor Fitzgerald

Nanaimo Clippers forward Trevor Fitzgerald

Trevor Fitzgerald only knows junior A hockey at its highest level.

The Nanaimo Clippers newcomer has been to the Royal Bank Cup national championship tournaments the past two springs with his former team, the Vernon Vipers.

He knows what it takes, so to speak, and there’s good news: the Clippers have the makings of a championship team. But so do 15 other clubs around the the B.C. Hockey League.

“Every team’s got it,” Fitzgerald said. “I think the difference is just how much you want it. Some teams want it more than others.”

Differences in size and skill are less pronounced at playoff time, the veteran said, and it comes down to character, the willingness to battle.

“We have the makings of it if we want it. It’s there for the taking.”

This time of year is a starting point, when all the pieces are starting to fit together. Fitzgerald is one newcomer among many on the 2011-12 Clippers, but he was perhaps the most highly touted off-season acquisition.

Traded from his hometown Vipers to the Prince George Spruce Kings in the off-season, Fitzgerald wasn’t thrilled about playing in P.G. and requested a trade. Prince George was willing to deal him, but only for a Spruce Kings’ ransom – Fitzgerald, blueliner Josh Bryan and another player were swapped for Gerry, Myles and Leo Fitzgerald and defence prospect Jesse Ursic.

The triplets were Nanaimo’s most popular players last year and are off to a hot start in P.G., but the Clippers’ new Fitzgerald said there’s no point feeling any pressure that way.

“There’s not much I can do, other than do my best and show the fans that I want to be here, that the trade was worth it,” he said.

Clippers fans won’t have any complaints so far. Trevor Fitzgerald couldn’t have had much of a better debut in orange and black, scoring a huge game-saving goal with 30 seconds left in the season opener in Powell River. He is the team’s leading scorer with three goals and three assists in five games.

It’s the sort of offensive output general manager Mike Vandekamp had hoped for when he traded for the veteran.

The Shipmen knew the 6-foot-1, 190 pounder would bring size, grit and leadership, but they also felt he could regain the offensive flair he showed in junior B when he scored 67 points in 49 games with the North Okanagan Knights.

Fitzgerald said he’ll score goals any way he can.

“I’ll stand in front of the net and bang home a couple of rebounds, I’ll shoot the puck, do whatever I can to put the puck in the net.”

Fitzgerald – and the rest of the Clippers – always know where they stand, as the coaching staff holds players accountable for every mistake they make within a structured system. But as long as everyone’s buying in and working hard, the Clippers will be able to separate themselves from those other 15 BCHL teams.

“We set goals for every game and we’re reaching more of those,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s showing in the win column.”

GAME ON … The Clippers face the Victoria Grizzlies tonight (Oct. 7) at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena. The Clips are also at home on Thanksgiving Sunday when they take on the Surrey Eagles in a 3 p.m. matinee at Frank Crane.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com