A year after making it to the cup finals, the Nanaimo Clippers appear determined to try to get back there.
Nanaimo’s B.C. Hockey League club had a marvellous first half of the season, compiling a 23-4-1 record to build a six-point lead atop the Coastal Conference.
The Clippers started the fall strong and they finished strong, too, with points in eight straight games to end the pre-Christmas schedule.
“We knew we have 10 days off, so we just knew to give it our all and … finish good before the Christmas break,” said Willyam Gendron, Clippers forward.
Colin Birkas, Clippers coach, said the team was focused in the final stretch of the fall. Coaches went with shorter practices and more video “to save the wear and tear” on players, and it ended up working out well.
Asked about the team’s consistency in the first half, the first thing Birkas pointed to was character.
“We brought back good players, good people and they kind of showed the way to the new guys,” he said. “Early on in the year we got off hot, scored a lot – we’re scoring a lot still – and then our goaltending found its groove and bailed us out some nights when we weren’t scoring as much. It seems like if one thing’s not firing on all cylinders, something else is.”
The Clippers scored 40 goals more than they surrendered in the first half of the season. All-star forward Kai Daniells has led the way with 37 points, fifth in the BCHL, and Brody Waters and Jake Hewitt are also in the top 10 with 35 points and 33 points, respectively. Ethan Mistry, another all-star, is the BCHL’s highest-scoring defenceman with 31 points. In goal, Aidan Campbell is second in the league in wins with 17 and fifth in save percentage at .922.
Birkas said the Clippers have found a style of hockey that’s working for them and importantly, “when it’s gut-check time,” they’re playing the right way.
“We have an inner belief that we’ll get the job done,” the coach said. “It’s tough to keep them totally on script all the time, they’re not soldiers … you have to work with the ebbs and flows and push when things are going well and be positive when we have slip-ups.”
Gendron said the Clippers have a goal to “go all the way this year” and so with that in mind, they intend to be ready for what the second half of the BCHL season will bring.
“Every team’s improving, but we’ve improved a lot since the beginning of the season,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for every team, but I feel like we’re going to be a good team … and have some really good games in the coming half of the season.”
GAME ON … The Clippers play the Surrey Eagles and Langley Rivermen on the road this coming Friday and Saturday, Dec. 30-31. Their next home game at Frank Crane Arena is Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. versus the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. For ticket information, visit http://nanaimoclippers.com.