It was a long wait for the season, but soon, a whole bunch of hockey will happen in a short amount of time.
The Nanaimo Clippers and 15 other B.C. Hockey League teams will play a pandemic-shortened 2021 season during April and May. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs will host a four-team ‘pod’ which will also include the Clippers, Cowichan Valley Capitals and Victoria Grizzlies.
Clippers coach Darren Naylor said he’s anticipating three to four games a week.
“It’s going to be a blitz,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of games and it’s going to be hard [for our players], but they’ll take it; they’re so excited to play.”
The BCHL season was saved in the nick of time, Naylor said, as he thinks a few more days and the league would have had to pull the plug.
“I figured sooner or later [the season] was going to come, but it was just running out of time for how long we could keep our players here and continue to practise,” he said.
Going so long without game action was “getting really tough” on the Clippers, said the coach.
Nanaimo won the Island Cup exhibition tournament in the fall, but right after that, health and travel restrictions were intensified and hockey games couldn’t happen.
Team captain Trevor LeDonne was one of the graduating Clippers who wrote to Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson at Christmas time pleading for an opportunity to play hockey.
“We were just trying to keep every option open and talk to as many people as we can for them to hear what we had to say, especially us 20-year-olds because it’s our last year of junior…” LeDonne said. “It was frustrating not being able to play, but with what’s going on in the world it’s understandable and we’re just glad we can get these 20 games in.”
Now that the Clippers have the chance to play some more hockey, they’ll try to win as many of their games as they can. The Clippers are in quarantine this week as they transition from a team that wasn’t allowed to a compete to a team that’s intent on defending its Island Cup trophy.
“I think with the pieces we have, we’ll still have the same Clippers identity and the same team when the season starts and I think we’ll be one of the top teams in the league again, for sure,” LeDonne said.
He said it was an honour to recently be named the team’s new captain and sees it as a reward for the leadership he’s shown.
“I always used to lead by example and talk in the room and on the ice, but I think it’s more of a mentor role now for the young guys,” he said.
Naylor said LeDonne deserves the captaincy and said the defenceman is an “old-school player who shows up and works hard and is capable of logging a ton of ice time. LeDonne is “grumpy at the best of times,” said his coach, and no fun to play against.
“He competes hard and he holds players accountable and if you’re going to be lazy, he’ll let you know,” Naylor said. “He’s a natural choice for the position.”
The coach said the Clippers have been fortunate to have had “leadership by committee” emerge during a challenging time.
“They knew they were in something together and nobody was giving up,” Naylor said.
GAME ON: The 2021 BCHL season will start the first week of April, though the schedule hasn’t yet been released.