The Nanaimo Clippers have a fresh sheet of ice and a brand-new hockey season to look forward to.
The city’s B.C. Hockey League club starts skating for the first time Tuesday (Sept. 2) as it opens training camp for 2014-15.
“Lots of new faces again, as it is every year at our level,” said Mike Vandekamp, coach and general manager of the Clippers. “But at the same time, it’s a great core to build around and we’re excited to get started.”
The Clippers assemble Monday for off-ice fitness testing and Vandekamp said it’s always interesting to observe.
“You see leadership show through already from Day 1 – guys that pop out of the crowd and say, ‘I want to be a leader.’ And work ethic, enthusiasm and passion. You see a lot on that day, to be honest,” he said.
The fitness testing will consist of a series of physical challenges that encourage competition.
“If we have 30 guys in camp and if you finish 30th, it’s probably not a good place to start,” Vandekamp said. “They guy that finishes first is making a pretty big statement with regards to where he’s at with his commitment level.”
On Tuesday the focus shifts onto the ice. The coach said the Clippers are keeping camp numbers relatively small this year.
“We’re going to be able to get to work on team concepts and systems right away,” he said. “We intend on doing that right from the very first day, but we’re going to set the tone on the work ethic side, too.”
New assistant coach Blake Clement said he looks forward to seeing players compete at camp.
“Some guys are still trying to get jobs, right? So it’s an internal battle [if] you want to make this team,” he said. “I know some guys are probably a shoo-in already, but there’s some guys fighting and you’ve got to have that killer instinct early.”
Vandekamp said he was able to recruit the sort of players he was looking for this off-season.
“Up front, our focus was to add as much speed and skill as we could,” he said. “The game is headed in that direction; it has been for a long time.”
On defence, the coach said some key returnees will be joined by players who have good size and mobility, but who will have to adjust to the league.
In goal, major junior veteran Guillaume Decelles enters camp as the prospective No. 1 and Vandekamp said it shouldn’t take long for him to earn his teammates’ confidence.
Training camp serves a lot of different purposes. Coaches will evaluate and go over X’s and O’s. Players will bond and build chemistry. And it will be a physical challenge, one that will “separate the men from the boys,” the coach said.
“We’ve got to put some pressure and some heat on the boys right away to see who can handle it,” said Vandekamp.
GAME ON … The team’s first pre-season game is Saturday (Sept. 6) versus the Victoria Grizzlies at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena. The BCHL season starts Sept. 19.