The Nanaimo Clippers had the sort of fall that makes anything possible this winter and spring.
The city’s B.C. Hockey League club has reached the Christmas break in first place in the Island Division and third overall with a record of 24-10-2-2.
“I’m really pleased with how the season’s started, obviously, and now the true test is the second half,” said Darren Naylor, Clippers coach. “That’s when the games start to get a little tighter, teams are a little more playoff-driven.”
Nanaimo ended off the autumn with a win and a loss in a home-and-home set against the Victoria Grizzlies. The Clippers shut out the Grizz 5-0 on Friday at Frank Crane Arena but lost 5-4 in overtime in the next night’s rematch down the Malahat.
But the three out of four points kept the Clips tied for first on the Island with the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Naylor expects the rivals to duke it out over the remainder of the season.
“There’s six games left on the table with that team, so I’m pretty sure that’s going to be a huge part of the season,” he said.
Naylor likes the way the Clippers have been winning hockey games. When there have been injuries, diversions and transactions, the team has remained consistent.
“It’s a testament to the depth of our hockey club … When we’re healthy, we pretty much have four lines that are capable of being top-six guys on other teams,” he said. “The way we’ve won, it’s been different every night, a different guy taking the lead every night and that’s what you need.”
The Clippers are second in the league in goals against and sixth in goals for.
“The way we’re built, we’re a defensive-type hockey team; we really take pride in shutting teams down and keeping things tight,” Naylor said. “We have offence – it comes and it goes sometimes, but when it’s there, we’re really hot.”
The BCHL’s trade deadline is in early January but the Clippers don’t expect to be busy that day. Naylor, who is the team’s director of hockey operations, said the Clippers “punched our move” at the December roster freeze when they added the league’s second-leading scorer, Josh Kagan.
“We’re good now. We’re pretty solid,” Naylor said. “I have one remaining [roster] card here, but barring something, an injury or something falling off the tracks here, I think we’re going to stand pat.”
The Clippers are now on an eight-day break in the schedule. Naylor said his guys can use the time off after a travel-heavy fall schedule, and will then reconvene for a “mini-camp” before heading up to Powell River at the end of the month.
GAME ON … The Clippers’ next action is on the road against the Powell River Kings on Dec. 30-31. Next home game is Jan. 3 when the Capitals visit Frank Crane Arena for a 7 p.m. faceoff.