The Nanaimo Clippers are about to sail into uncharted waters.
An historic B.C. Hockey League season is getting underway this weekend, as the Clippers, Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Cowichan Valley Capitals and Victoria Grizzlies get ready to play a season in a ‘pod’ in Port Alberni.
“You obviously want to win and do your best, but it’s a different season … It’s uncharted territory,” said Darren Naylor, Clippers coach.
The Clippers were the best at handling the fall’s Island Cup exhibition season, winning that tournament. Since then there has been some turnover with players opting to pursue hockey opportunities in the United States.
“All the teams have lost personnel and added guys,” Naylor said. “The hard part is you lose the top-end guys and then you go scrambling, but we were really fortunate with our connections that we landed a couple of big fish. That was big for us that we were able to do that.”
The Clippers are about to embark on a condensed schedule that will see them play 20 games in 35 days, amounting to four games a week. A lot of high-level minor hockey players are used to playing a lot of games in a short time during spring hockey, but it will be much more challenging at the junior A level with the additional competitiveness and physicality, said Naylor.
So depth is important, and the Clippers believe they have it in all areas of the ice.
The team’s goaltending is expected to be its biggest strength, as Jordan Naylor was among the BCHL’s best netminders last season, finishing first in the league in shutouts, tied for first in wins and second in goals-against average.
“Jordan’s a pretty motivated guy,” said his dad. “He’s looking for a scholarship so he’s hungry, he’s got his eye on it. If he plays up to his capabilities, we should be in most games.”
Ethan Neitsch will be Nanaimo’s backup.
On defence, new captain Trevor LeDonne is the veteran leader, a stay-at-home guy with point-producing ability who will play a ton. Jack O’Brien just turned 18 this month but is mature beyond his years and is a veteran who will log a lot of minutes, too. Michael Palandra will be another key cog on defence, as the coach says he brings “pizzazz” and an ability to jump in on the rush, and Michael Craig is the other blueliner who’ll slot into the top four. Chase Barlow and fast-improving Brendan Carlson from Nanaimo are other members of the defence corps, and Naylor is still working on adding some affiliate-player depth.
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The Nanaimo Clippers will get to play some BCHL hockey starting this weekend. Here's a look at the players who will be representing Nanaimo in a unique, condensed season… https://t.co/z3v0dacUXc pic.twitter.com/V7NMImvaLb
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) March 31, 2021
Up front, Nanaimo has lost some scoring punch from the Island Cup squad, but Naylor said the group has solid depth and the makings of four good lines.
One of the Clippers’ key additions will be Nolan Hutcheson, who played three full seasons in the OHL with the Sudbury Wolves, including one 24-goal campaign. Other players who will be depended upon for scoring are Keighan Gerrie, a key contributor during the Island Cup run, and Tristan Fraser. Ontario junior A veteran Thomas Maia is a newcomer to the forward lines who will be able to put up points.
Baxter Anderson, a major junior veteran from the Medicine Hat Tigers, will play on a line with Clippers veteran Liam Ryan for two-thirds of a two-way grind line. New addition Daniel O’Neill, acquired from the Langley Rivermen, could be a fit on that line.
Brody Waters, Jaeger Murdock and Shaun Mahoney all gained experience during the exhibition season and can anticipate expanded roles. Kai Daniells and local Nanaimo players Ethan Jones and Luke Lavery will also get opportunities.
“I think we have a lot of depth up front,” Naylor said. “How it all plays out will kind of be up to them. We’ll see which newer guys, which younger guys step up. There’s some big minutes available and whoever can take the bull by the horns quickest is going to be better off for it.”
GAME ON … The Clippers start the 2021 BCHL season on Saturday, April 3, with a 1 p.m. game against the Grizzlies at Port Alberni’s Weyerheuser Arena. The next day, the Clippers will play the Capitals at 5 p.m. at the same rink. Spectators are not permitted this season; for information about audio and video broadcasts, visit http://bchl.ca/game-broadcasts.