The home opener is always an exciting part of hockey season.
For the 2016-17 Nanaimo Clippers, chock-full of new players, it’s a chance to introduce themselves to their city and their hometown supporters.
“There’s a lot of exciting new faces to come down and watch … which I think is exciting for the fans, to hopefully get connected to a new group of players here,” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach and general manager. “We’re obviously excited to go out there and hopefully garner their long-term support through working hard and representing our community the best that we can.”
The Clippers begin the B.C. Hockey League season this Friday (Sept. 9) with a home game against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
There are a few familiar faces, but for the most part, the core has moved on and this year’s Nanaimo Clippers team is a different, younger version.
“We’ve got plenty of speed and skill, a bigger, stronger D corps and a lot of youthful exuberance,” Vandekamp said.
Matt Creamer, returning forward, said the new guys are getting incorporated into the chemistry that existed before, making for a good group that can do a lot of things well.
“I think we’ll play some fast hockey, we’re very physical and we’re going to get the puck in and go to work,” he said. “It should be fun hockey to watch.”
The Clippers reached the B.C. Hockey League final two seasons ago and were one goal away last spring, and even with a retooled roster, will have the same long-term goals.
“I think we have an expectation to win,” said Sean Buchanan, veteran defenceman. “It’s part of our culture now that’s just expected and I think everyone understands that.”
Here’s a look at the 2016-17 Clippers:
One of the players to watch this fall will be returnee Lucas Finner, who appears ready for a dramatically increased role as a go-to guy offensively. Vandekamp said line combinations aren’t yet determined, but Finner skated this week at practice with Jamie Collins, an exciting addition, and another newcomer, Vincent Millette.
Team captain Spencer Hewson had surgery for an undisclosed injury during camp and should be back sometime over the next two weeks to assume a major on-ice role to go with his leadership duties. Creamer is another forward who will be looked to for leadership.
The Clippers are also high on Ben Solin, who brings high-level skill along with great work ethic.
The team made a trade this week, acquiring forward Tristan Crozier from the Grande Prairie Storm in exchange for forward D.J. Petruzzelli.
“We’ve got a lot of speed up front and we should be able to use our speed and we’ve got a couple of big guys to make some room for the smaller guys,” Creamer said.
Vandekamp said he would still like to add another offensive-minded defenceman, but he has guys who can fill the various roles for now.
“We’re an older group and we have lots of size, so I think we’ll be strong out there and push guys around out there hopefully and just [make] smart, simple plays,” Buchanan said.
He and Taylor Karel are the leaders of the unit; Buchanan is one of the longest-serving Clippers and Karel has added some new dimensions to his game. A few newcomers look poised to fit right in – Will LeNeave has some offensive upside from the blueline and Shawn Guison and Austin Crossley will also play important minutes.
Vandekamp generally doesn’t identify a No. 1 goalie and wouldn’t this year, either.
Brendan Barry, son of NHL agent J.P. Barry, is the more experienced of the Clippers’ netminders, having played as a backup with both the Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers.
Austin Roden will take on a greater role after helping out as an affiliate goalie with the Clips last season.
The Clippers and Bulldogs face off Friday at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena.
“Typically these opening games are exciting, because there’ll be lots of mistakes made both ways, which always leads to excitement,” Vandekamp said.
The Clippers are also at home Sunday, as they face the Powell River Kings in a 2 p.m. start.
Tickets will be available at the door or in advance by calling 250-751-0593 or visiting www.nanaimoclippers.com.