The Nanaimo Clippers, after taking on the challenges of a COVID-interrupted season last year, are looking forward to getting back to hockey as they know it.
The Clippers begin their 2021-22 B.C. Hockey League season this week, starting with road games against the Powell River Kings on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 8-9.
“Last year was an eye-opener for everybody in the hockey worlds. It was something that none of us had ever seen before…” said Darren Naylor, Clippers coach and GM. “It’s nice to have that uncertainty gone.”
The global pandemic hasn’t ended, but hockey season is comparatively back to normal, starting in the fall as it should. The Clippers had three wins and three losses in the pre-season and accomplished their goals of getting their skating legs going, assessing players, starting to put systems in place, and team-building.
“Early in camp we like to bring in a lot of younger guys to give them a taste of what it’s like in junior A, but after the first week we got the numbers down to guys we brought in from different places to compete for jobs,” Naylor said.
He’s satisfied that the Clippers have the players they need to be ready to compete come puck drop. There are “a couple spots to fill,” the GM said, but generally he sees a pretty deep team.
“We don’t really have one or two guys who stand out as the prototype superstar, but we’re four lines deep. We’re going to come at you hard,” he said, adding that the way the Clippers play means that forwards are going to be able to get to the net.
Jérémie Payant and Max Itagaki were Nanaimo’s leading scorers in the pre-season and Tristan Fraser is the highest-scoring returnee from last season.
Naylor said the defence corps has really good depth, as well, including guys capable of being offensive contributors.
“We might not have the top one or two stud-type guy, but we’re got six or seven defencemen who are all really good and they can play,” the coach said.
Jack O’Brien and Michael Craig are some of the veteran leaders on the blueline.
In goal, the Clippers believe they have a strong starting goalie in Cooper Black, but as of press time, hadn’t made up their mind about their backup.
Generally, the coach sees attributes of grit and toughness and some of those kinds of intangibles.
“That’s kind of how we’re built,” Naylor said. “We’re physical, we’re going to be team tough and we’re not going to get pushed around. We’re going to play the body.”
The players don’t need any extra motivation to be excited about hockey season, but they will take pride in knowing they’re donning the orange, black and white for the Nanaimo Clippers’ 50th-anniversary season.
“We’ve got some special things planned throughout this season to honour the past, the present and the future of the Clippers,” Naylor said.
GAME ON … The Clippers and Kings play in Powell River Oct. 8-9, then meet again for home-opening weekend at Frank Crane Arena on Oct. 15-16.