You'll be right is you think there is something different about the Nanaimo Clippers this year, because just about everything will be different.
The Clippers open their 41st B.C. Hockey League training camp today and "Hello my Name is.. ." nametags should be standard issue at registration. Of the 30-plus players expected for camp this week, only nine finished the year with the club last year. Gone is their entire top six set of forwards, in fact, only four forwards overall are back.
Head coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp has been busy recruiting players from across the country since before the end of last season, bringing in rookies like forward Garrett Dunlop from Nanaimo, forward Sebastian Auray from St. Albert, Alta., defenceman Edwin Hookenson from Lampman, Sask., defenceman Josh McArdle from Roscoe, Illini., and forward Zach Sabatini from Johns Creek, Ga.
Oh yes, there will be a differnt look to the Clippers this year.
"The word of the day is there's a lot of 'New'" said Vandekamp, who also has two new assistant coaches this year - Brad Leeb and Dave Johnston - after Mike Olsen left the team at the end of last season. "Like anything new in life, it's always exciting, I'm looking forward to that."
On the eve of camp, Vandekamp is excited about the possibilities. He hasn't seen many of his new recruits play in person, relying a lot on his scouting staff and highlight reels. He'll have to wait one more day, however, to actually see them on ice as today will be all about fitness testing and dry land training.
However, there is one big trend he expects to see out of his new players.
"Almost every new player we added this year was a faster, more skilled player," he said.
Gone are their top nine scorers from last season, including forwards Greg Fraser, Kyle Kramer, Reid Sturos, Matthew Grant, Trevor Fitzgerald and Michael McNicholas.
A lot of them completed their junior eligibility, but others like McNicholas, Grant and Josh Bryan, were part of futures deals made at the trade deadline.
As hosts of the inaugural Western Canada Cup, Vandekamp loaded up to make a push at the championship. The Clippers, however, ran into a mass of injury trouble in the second half of last season, were upset in the first round of the BCHL playoffs by the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, and then finished fourth overall at the WCC.
"It changes your mentality when you're in the short term instead of building, but we had no choice, we were given the tournament and we had to try and do as good as we could," said Vandekamp. "If that meant making some changes to try and get better, even if it was subtly better, then we had to do that. Now we have to go into this year with a fresh new attitude and that's what we'll do."
Another issue the Clippers are facing is trying to piece together a new leadership group
after most of their captains and assistants are now gone. But Vandekamp says, that there is no guarantee one of the few returning players will be wearing a letter this year, setting a precedent two years ago when he named Fitzgerald the captain in his first season with the club.
"You have to be very open minded to look beyond just players that played here to be part of your leadership group," he said. "We will take a long time to make our on-ice decisions this year through camp and exhibition to really try our best to get it right. We will do the same with our leadership core."
The strength of what is returning is on the blue-line. Austin Dick, Chris Newton, Nicholas Gushue and Colton Daulton are back, and along with starting goalie Jayson Argue and back up Connor LaCouvee, they should be able to hold the Clippers together through any early season struggles offensively. Still, this just means one big thing: There is lots of opportunity for players to step up.
"There's more players I know little about versus those that I know a lot about.," said Vandekamp. "I'm going in with as open a mind as I've ever had and I think the players are going in with the cleanest of slates that might ever have existed."
Ice sessions start Wednesday with practices at 9 and 10:30 a.m. and their first scrimmage at 6 p.m. Thursday will carry the same schedule while Friday will have morning skates at 10:15 and 10:45 a.m. and the annual Rhodesie Cup Intersquad Game at 7 p.m.
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