There wasn’t much separating the Nanaimo Clippers and Powell River Kings, but only one of the teams got to go on to Round 2.
The Clippers were eliminated by the Kings in the first-round playoff series, four games to two, ending with a 5-4 loss on Saturday in Powell River.
This week, Clippers coach and GM Darren Naylor looked back on the series and the season as a whole since he joined the organization last fall when the team was sold.
He said Powell River forward Carter Turnbull was a game-breaker in the series with late game-winning goals in both Game 5 and Game 6, while Nanaimo was missing some key players during the series with team captain Jamie Collins injured at the end, forward Jake Harris ill with a “bad virus” all series and defenceman Jordan Wharrie missing the first four games.
“It kind of took its toll on us…” Naylor said.
“[Our] team worked hard every game. There was never a question of that. We just never seemed to get … the goaltending, the defence and the scoring all on the same page in the playoffs.”
Losing is a part of the learning curve, the coach added.
“It takes time,” Naylor said. “Sometimes you’ve got to lose and feel the sting and then add the pieces and it takes awhile.”
He said amidst the coaching change that saw him take over behind the bench at Christmas, “the players responded the way they were supposed to. They were very mature and they just played hockey.”
A highlight of the year was a 10-game winning streak to close the regular season which kept the Clippers in the race for first place in the division until the final day of the campaign. The whole second half of the season was streaky, and coaches got to see the players through good times and tough times.
“The one positive thing about taking over the team when we did, it gave me a good 2-3 months to really get a handle on the players and what we have and to see which players fit my mould to come back and which players won’t be back,” Naylor said.
He said the hockey club has already begun the process of committing to players and more scouting will take place this week in the Okanagan.
Naylor said he thinks his coaching philosophies are “180 degrees different” from his predecessor’s, and he wants the Clippers to become more of a puck possession team with more speed and skill. He envisions a younger squad next year, too.
“We’ll have our maximum of 20s, but be a little bit younger and start the process of building a real strong team over the next two, three years here that’s going to be a contender,” Naylor said.
The coach thanked fans and told them they’ll get to see “a pretty exciting team” in 2018-19.