The fall’s mid-season slump is old news as the Nanaimo Clippers reconvene this week.
Mike Vandekamp, coach and general manager of the Clippers, said he’s seen in past seasons that squads can come back from the Christmas break a whole new hockey team, in many ways.
The Clippers will look for more consistent play and some more points after an “up-and-down” first half of 2016-17, Vandekamp said.
“We had some highs, we had some lows, we’ve had some adversity to face, injuries, challenges like that…” he said.
“At the same time, I think adversity can make a team stronger in the long run. I’ve liked our attitude, our spirit; the players have continued to work hard and have been really positive and just battled hard and stuck together through the grind.”
That bodes well, the coach said, for better results over the final 20 games of the season. Nanaimo is 14-18-1-5, for 34 points in 38 games. The fourth-place Clippers sit eight points back of the third-place Cowichan Valley Capitals and five points up on the fifth-place Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
Spencer Hewson, Clippers captain, pointed out that there is a lot of divisional play to end the regular season, so as long as his team is in striking distance, it can have a lot of control over where it finishes.
“The start of the year is important, getting wins, getting confidence, learning the way Vandy wants us playing, but as long as we’ve got everything figured out by Feburary, I think we’re going to have no problem making some steps on some of these teams that are above us and then carrying that right into the playoffs,” Hewson said.
He fully believes, he added, that Nanaimo has the personnel to win. Roster moves tend to be a storyline at this time of year, with the B.C. Hockey League’s trade deadline approaching on Jan. 10.
Vandekamp said the Clippers need one more defenceman and will “have a look at other things that might be able to help us to be better,” but recognizes that with so many teams making the playoffs in the BCHL, there won’t be a lot of teams making players available.
“We’re all-in this year. We’re trying to do as well as we can this year, make moves that are going to help us this year,” the GM said. “But at the same time, I think we have to be very aware and cognizant of the future of our team … We’ve got some good young players able to return to our club and we want to protect that.”
Whatever changes come in the dressing room, the Clippers will try to get better from within, too. Vandekamp said he’s seen improvement in both the penalty kill and the power play and is satisfied with the goals against. The offence in general needs to be better, he said, especially with finishing chances; it’s been a storyline all season. As for the goaltending, the coach said it’s been good and even great some nights, but needs to be more consistent.
So there’s a lot of work to do still, and only so many games to do it. It will make for a frenetic and ideally a fan-friendly finish to 2016-17.
“We’ve got to make the playoffs,” Vandekamp said. “From there I think it’s evidently clear that we will probably be taking on an underdog role this time around, but I think that’s OK too sometimes … But we’ve got to get to the playoffs first. That’s the most important thing.”
GAME ON … The Clippers visit the Powell River Kings on Friday (Dec. 30).