The players who propelled the Nanaimo Clippers to a first-place record will be the ones who will get to steer the ship the rest of the way.
The Clippers, after making no moves at the BCHL’s trade deadline last week, won their final two games before the all-star break. Nanaimo defeated the Surrey Eagles in overtime, 4-3, on Friday, Jan. 13, at Frank Crane Arena, then edged the Langley Rivermen by a 3-2 score Sunday, Jan. 15, also at the Frank.
Colin Birkas, Clippers coach, said his team got off to a strong start against the Rivermen and managed to hold off an opponent that seemed to play with desperation.
“We’re getting everybody’s best effort. [As] a first-placed team, you’re going to get everything thrown at you,” he said. “That’s tough, but it’s part of it and hopefully that’ll push us to get better in the second half and be playoff-ready.”
Clippers captain Michael Craig said winning both weekend games felt like getting back to the kind of results the team was seeing before Christmas. He agreed it will be a challenge as opponents bring their “A-plus” game against the Clippers.
“We’ve got to bring it every night,” Craig said. “There’s no off-days from here on out.”
Willyam Gendron scored the OT winner against the Eagles and Jérémie Payant, Kai Daniells and Mike Murtagh also tallied. Aidan Campbell made 21 saves for the win.
Two days later, Brett Merner, Charles Tardif and Ben Brant scored for the Clippers and Campbell made 42 saves.
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As for the trade deadline, the Clippers are content with standing pat. Birkas, who is also the club’s general manager, said he wasn’t interested in bringing in a “rental” player.
“I was only going to do something if it made sense for this year and next year…” he said. “We’ve got good character and some young guys and some depth guys that I think we owe it to them to give them opportunity if we have injuries or what not.”
Birkas said he made sure he didn’t miss any phone calls leading up to the deadline, and said although a few GMs in the BCHL and other junior A leagues were aggressively trying to make moves, he didn’t feel pressure to take part.
“This year, especially, there wasn’t even a chatter in the locker room,” Craig said. “Normally there’s some kind of buzz the week leading up, but our group, I don’t even know if a lot of guys knew that it was coming up. We’re so focused on what we’ve got in our dressing room.”
He said now that the deadline has passed, it might provide some confidence and peace of mind for players.
“We really like what we’ve got and we know what we’re capable of, up to this point, so we’re just trying to keep building…” Craig said. “These are the brothers that we’re going to do the whole thing with.”
GAME ON … The BCHL will break for all-star weekend and the schedule resumes Jan. 27-28, when the Clippers host the Powell River Kings for a pair of 7 p.m. games at Frank Crane Arena. For ticket information, visit www.nanaimoclippers.com.