Hockey season isn’t over, but it’s on hold for awhile.
The Nanaimo Clippers lost 2-1 to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in Wednesday night’s decisive Game 5 at Frank Crane Arena to drop their first-round playoff series three games to two.
Nanaimo led 1-0 going into the third, but the visitors tallied twice in the final frame and the Clippers couldn’t get the equalizer.
“It was just a really close game…” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach. “They had very few chances at our end. We just didn’t bear down on a couple of opportunities, I guess.”
Reid Sturos opened the scoring on a power play late in the first period. Near the end of the second period the Clippers got a full two-minute five-on-three advantage, but didn’t generate many shots and couldn’t get a goal. Vandekamp and Clippers captain Trevor Fitzgerald both called that a turning point.
“I don’t think it affected our mindset, but it definitely affected the score,” Fitzgerald said.
Five minutes into the third, three Clippers players got caught up with one another in the same patch of ice and turned the puck over at their own blueline. It left a couple of Bulldogs open and Alberni’s Manny Gialedakis was able to tie the game.
With six minutes to go, the Bulldogs got the go-ahead goal from Ryan Lough off a rush.
‘Dogs goalie Jay Deo wasn’t giving up any rebounds, so the Clippers couldn’t get any more quality chances, despite their best efforts.
“Something we wanted to do was leave it all out there and work hard and I thought the guys did a great job of that,” said Fitzgerald.
Lough said his team had an advantage with its speed but Fitzgerald said it was more that the Bulldogs were opportunistic. Vandekamp said the Clippers played great hockey all series long except for some stretches of Game 3.
“We were playing against a good team. It was only inches separating these two teams in the regular season,” Vandekamp said. “I said to many people that this would be the hardest series that we would play. You can’t get any closer that what it was. It’s just a game of bounces sometimes.”
Even though the Clippers didn’t necessarily get eliminated on Wednesday, it might have felt like it – Fitzgerald said the players haven’t spent any time talking about the Western Canada Cup tournament because they’ve been focused on different goals.
“All we’ve talked about is winning our way there, winning the league…” he said. “We couldn’t close out a series and that’s the way it goes.”
The Clippers will hold a team meeting Thursday (March 21) to make plans for the next five weeks leading up to the WCC.
“We’ll probably take a bit of a break, but we haven’t thought about it,” said Vandekamp. “We’ve got some time to digest and then we’ll make that decision.”
ICE CHIPS … Shots in Game 5 ended up 30-21 in favour of Nanaimo, with Jayson Argue suffering the loss in goal … Fitzgerald led the Clippers in playoff scoring with six points … The Bulldogs advance to play the Victoria Grizzlies in Round 2.