There were few Nanaimo Clippers who had a more tumultuous season last year than Mason Mitchell.
There were games where the six-foot-two, 180-pound winger looked like the most effective players on the ice. He was physical, he was a ball of energy, and he showed a blossoming offensive upside.
But there were also games where he showed he was still a rookie, and his unbridled enthusiasm on the ice got him in trouble, leading to three suspensions and 89 penalty minutes in 43 games.
The Clippers are hoping he has figured out the balance this season between intimidating, physical force and going beyond what's acceptable in the B.C. Hockey League.
The Calgary native did receive some life lessons this summer as he watched the banks of the Bow and Elbow Rivers overflowed and envelope his hometown.
His home, on a hill in the neighbourhood of Deer Run, was safe, but he had a front row view of the devastation that displaced thousands and caused billions of dollars in damage.
He spent the following weeks helping friends put their lives and houses back together.
"I was helping out at my friend's grandpa's house," he said. "(The water) went all of the way up to the first floor, so you had to redo the foundation everything. Everything was taken out."
Calgary is still in recovery mode and finally starting to get back on track. As Mason was
leaving for Clippers camp, one of the major arteries of the city, Heritage Drive on to Glenmore Trail, was finally reopened.
It was certainly a life lesson for a young hockey player who has never had to deal with a natural disaster before.
"You never really see it, so it is scary for it happens," said
Mitchell. "It something you have to keep your eyes out for, it could happen again and it could happen worse."
Maybe the flood had a maturing effect on the 19-year-old, but Clippers head coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp is counting on the same kind of game from Mitchell, regardless of last year's on ice issues.
"I don't think Mason deserved to be suspended as often as he was, to be honest. I don't think he's dirty, I think he's physical, and I think the line of being physical in our league is a difficult line to walk these days with the rules the way they are," said Vandekamp. "He can probably stand to learn to manage his game within the current rule structure and that's something I think that a year under his belt is going to help."
Two of his three suspensions were for hits to the head, costing him six games.
Mitchell says he is not going to change the way he plays, despite the reputation he has earned with officials that landed him in their bad books last year.
"I'm just playing like I do, I don't think about it as 'I'm going to do this or that, hit this guy or hurt him.' It's just the way I play and it's always going to be the way I play," MIitchell said. "I know where the line is, and I can't be crossing it, because if I cross it I will be hurting my team and teammates."
Vandekamp said he thought some of the suspensions were too heavy-handed while Mason also mentioned the officiating as an issue.
The Clippers will need him, however.
One of his biggest strengths is that he can play anywhere through the line up and be effective. On a high-skill line he can create space for the playmakers while crashing the net and banging in rebounds. On a traditional third or fourth line he can be part of a physical combination that makes life hell for the opposition's top lines. Vandekamp is hoping for a balance of all these attributes through his four lines.
Mitchell's willing to do any and all of it.
"If we need hitters. .. I'll go down and fill any hole, if he wants me to score, I'll go and score. It's all up to the coach," said Mitchell, who is the highest returning scorer from last season after a 20-point (14 goals, six assists) rookie campaign. "If he puts me on the third (line) I'll perform on the third, the same on the fourth. If he puts me in goal I'll play goalie."
With the Clippers still carrying extra players - they currently have 15 forwards, eight defenceman and three goalies - the combinations and possibilities for
where he will end up are many.
Vandekamp says he will make some cuts before they enter the BCHL Showcase this weekend that signifies the start of the regular season, but they will likely still have a few extra bodies hanging around come Monday.
"There is so much new here that we're trying to take the proper time to make some decisions and trying to maximize some options to keep a player or two around as an affiliate," he said.
The Clippers after finishing the exhibition season at 3-1-1, including a 3-1 win over Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Saturday in Port Alberni.
They open the Showcase in Chilliwack on Saturday against the West Kelowna Warriors at 3 p.m. On Sunday they play the Prince George Spruce Kings at 2 p.m.
ICE CHIPS - The Clippers brought in goalie Liam McLeod, 17, on Tuesday after he was cut by the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. Last season, McLeod was 1-8-0 with a 4.69 goals against average and a .857 save percentage in 14 games with the Spruce Kings. Vandekamp said the Kamloops native gives them options when it comes to roster management and certain age quotas. The Clippers also have incumbent starting goalie Jayson Argue, 20, and off-season acquisition Connor LaCouvee, 19. .. With two more goals on Saturday, Nanaimo native Brendan Taylor finished the pre-season with five goals in three games for the Clippers.
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