The Nanaimo Clippers played hard even when their playoff hopes looked bleak. And on Friday night, while still celebrating a home-ice victory, the Clips were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Nanaimo defeated the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 4-1 at Frank Crane Arena that night, but learned from the out-of-town scoreboard that the Coquitlam Express had come back to beat the Langley Rivermen 5-4.
It means that the Clippers are assured of finishing fifth in the B.C. Hockey League’s Coastal Conference, one place shy of the necessary seeding.
Andrew Gladiuk, first star for the Clippers on Friday, said it was pretty easy to find focus despite the team’s situation.
“We haven’t played at home in a while, and it’s on Friday night, so it’s pretty hard not to get up for it.”
After redirecting in the game-winner midway through the third period, his second goal of the game, Gladiuk had a chance for a hat trick into an empty net with 30 seconds left, but elected to pass to Kyle Kramer, who made it 3-1. Dan Correale added another empty netter with seven seconds left and Billy Faust recorded the win after a 27-save effort.
The Clips were smiling after Friday’s win, but Gladiuk said it’s “not really” as much fun to play when the stakes are diminished.
“All athletes want to be in pressure situations,” said the alternate captain. “Obviously being in first place would be a lot nicer, being in the race a little tighter. But we’ve got to get up for every game.”
As a 20-year-old graduating player with an NCAA scholarship in the bag, Gladiuk said there’s still something to play for over these last few games.
“You’re basically soaking it in and squeezing every little moment out of it,” he said. “It’s a big part of your life, playing junior hockey, and you don’t want to see it go. I’m going to have to move on at some point but it’s hard to see it go so I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
ICE CHIPS … The Clippers went on to lose 3-2 to the Coquitlam Express on the road Sunday. Josh Phillips and Gladiuk scored goals and Faust made 25 saves in defeat … The Clippers host the Express on Wednesday (March 7) at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena.