The Nanaimo Clippers know these are just exhibition games. And yet they also know how important these games really are.
The city’s B.C. Hockey League team plays a pre-season game tonight (Sept. 14) against the Cowichan Valley Capitals, then closes out the exhibition schedule Friday (Sept. 16) and Saturday against the Victoria Grizzlies.
There are two primary goals, said coach Mike Vandekamp. He wants players to impress individually, and also improve their team play.
The roster was down to 24 players after the weekend and needs to be at 21 next week.
“It’s certainly going to be the last audition for some of our players,” Vandekamp said.
He said the final few cuts will be the hardest, because he believes the current group of players can all play at the junior A level.
Trevor Fitzgerald, Clippers forward, said the individual competition will be on players’ minds during the final pre-season games.
“Everyone’s playing their hardest. They don’t want to be that last cut,” he said. “So it’s a pretty big battle in that sense.”
He also noted that winning, even in the pre-season, helps build the right team attitude.
“It’s really setting the tone for the year,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t mean a whole lot stats-wise, but mentally it’s definitely a huge thing.”
Vandekamp said he wants to see players limit mistakes and “get closer to the structured team” he wants them to be when the puck drops on the 2011-12 season.
“This is where we really need to get sharp and prepare so we’re ready for that first game of the season and we come out with the best preparation and best effort that we can come out with,” said Andrew Gladiuk, Clippers forward.
These pre-season games could also have implications beyond opening night – the coach pointed out that the Clips play Island teams a lot this year, so they could possibly start building a mental advantage..
“These next games are huge,” said Josh Phillips, Clippers defenceman. “I think they can really define us as a team going into the regular season and definitely could be huge confidence boosters if we can win them.”
ICE CHIPS … The Clippers and the Capitals play Wednesday (Sept. 14) at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena. On Friday the Clips and Grizz also face off at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane. The next night the teams play at Sooke … The Clippers said their eight-goal outburst in Sunday’s pre-season win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs was an encouraging sign. “We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of firepower,” Fitzgerald said. “Right up to the fourth line, all those guys could potentially be a first-liner.” Gladiuk said the system, where forwards come back on D, then try to break out as a unit, leads to offence. “It really helps us wear down other teams and put pucks in the back of the net,” he said … Please check back at Clippers Central tomorrow for another news story on the team.