The Nanaimo Clippers were on the cusp of more hockey, but they were also on the brink, and the season is now over.
The city’s B.C. Hockey League team is transitioning to off-season mode after losing 3-2 in overtime of the final game of the playoff round-robin last Tuesday night in West Kelowna.
“I thought we played very well,” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach and general manager. “We made a few mistakes along the way, but all along we kind of had the attitude that you’re always going to make some mistakes, let’s just make sure we play as hard as we can and I thought we did. We left it all out there.”
He said coming that close, in overtime and one goal away from advancing, is a tough way to lose.
“If you just get beat and you weren’t good enough and the other team was way better, I think it’s an easier pill to swallow…” he said. “We very much could be playing in the final, just as they are. You also end up being forced to look back at little, tiny moments.”
It came down to not getting a bounce in the final, wild overtime, but throughout the round there were times when the Clippers “had our opportunities and we didn’t seize those moments,” Vandekamp said.
Not being able to win either home game in the round was a critical factor, he added.
The format of the round did the Clippers no favours, either, as they had one fewer opportunity to win a playoff game than their competition.
“Three teams playing in the third round of the playoffs is not the answer. They don’t do it in any other league in hockey and we shouldn’t be doing it, either,” Vandekamp said. “We need to have a strong look at it. In every year that we’ve done this, they’ve tweaked it, changed it, and there’s still issues.”
He was asked if this post-season represents a lost opportunity considering the calibre of Clippers players and how close they came.
“As much as we had a couple major strengths in a couple positions, we still had a lot of young guys that were just cutting their teeth in our league, too,” Vandekamp said. “So I didn’t look at it that way necessarily. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be right back at it again next year.”
He said the West Kelowna Warriors and Chilliwack Chiefs are deserving finalists, but said those teams don’t necessarily have anything that the Clippers were missing. Still, after coming so close this year, the GM said he has some ideas about the kind of team it takes to win.
“Every year is different, right? This year’s team was different from last year’s, yet they were similarly successful, yet they were quite a bit different in their makeup,” he said.
With so many teams recruiting from the same pool of players, it’s hard to get the perfect pieces, said Vandekamp. So the goal is to find the best possible players to fill spots.
“I think we have an idea of what we would love to have our template look like, but it’s not that easy at our level to get to that,” he said.
There will be a returning core, with potentially 11 or 12 guys from this year’s squad reporting back in the fall, including Spencer Hewson, named last week as the next team captain. The Clippers will turn a page, but will remember the pain of this year’s playoff loss.
“I think that little extra motivation is certainly there to try to push beyond that and take the next step,” Vandekamp said.
Rempal selected as team MVP
The Nanaimo Clippers’ best player leaves the program with an armful of trophies.
Sheldon Rempal was named Most Valuable Player at the junior A hockey club’s awards banquet Friday.
The winger also received a trophy as Top Scorer, the Jason Gow Memorial Award as most exciting player, and Scholastic Player of the Year.
Matt Creamer was chosen Rookie of the Year, while Yanni Kaldis took home Top Defenceman. Lucas Finner won the Lisa McPherson Award for heart, dedication and courage. Matt Hoover was selected as Most Inspirational Player and Best Two-Way Player and Edwin Hookenson won the Coach’s Award.
Devin Brosseau was the winner of the Most Popular Player award, Nolan Aibel won for Most Improved Player and Spencer Hewson won the Unsung Hero Award.
Also at the banquet, the Clippers honoured graduating 20-year-old players Rempal, Brosseau, Kaldis, Hookenson, Corey Renwick and Kale Bennett.
Rempal led the Clippers in points (110), goals (59) and game-winning goals (11) in 2015-16. Brosseau led the team in assists (57) and penalty minutes (108). Hookenson and Kaldis led the team in games played (58).