The way a team plays at the end of a hard-fought season gives fans an idea of what they can expect from their team in the playoffs. The Nanaimo Clippers closed out their regular season with three curtail wins and a couple of tough home losses. Four of the Clippers’ final five games were against crucial division rival teams—two against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and two against the Victoria Grizzlies.
On Friday, Mar. 1 the Clippers played host to the visiting Grizzlies. Victoria opened the scoring when Keyler Bruce beat Nanaimo goaltender Jayson Argue and held onto the one goal lead into the first intermission. Nanaimo took command of the game in the second period when Mason Mitchell and Kyle Kramer both scored for the Clippers giving them a 2–1 lead after 40 minutes. However, the Grizzlies weren’t done yet, and were able to tie in the third period and forced overtime at Frank Crane Arena. Reid Sturos, with an assist from Trevor Fitzgerald, notched the winner and the Clippers defeated the Victoria Grizzlies 3–2.
The Clippers then travelled to Bear Mountain Arena the next night for a rematch against the Grizzlies. Building from their home win the previous night, the Clippers came out strong, but the Grizzlies fought back and outshot Nanaimo 16–5 in the first period. The second period was an even battle with both teams scoring one goal each—Brenden Forbes for Nanaimo and former Clipper Myles Fitzgerald for the Grizzlies. The third period was end-to-end hockey with neither team able to take the lead on the scoreboard and for a second night in a row the game advanced to extra time. At 4:22 of overtime Sturos was the hero once again, giving his team the win.
Nanaimo faced their third game in three nights on Mar. 3 against Alberni Valley. After two overtime wins, Clipper fans hoped their team could hold off the Bulldogs and take their third consecutive win. Despite being outshot 36–28 in the full 60 minutes the Clippers took a 6–3 win. The boys spread the glory around the team with five different scorers on six goals: Taylor Grobowski, Kyle Kramer (2), Christopher Rygus, Matthew Grant, and Greg Fraser.
With a five-day break, the Bulldogs were in Nanaimo on Mar. 8 to try and put an end to the Clippers’ winning streak. Nanaimo, on the other hand, was determined to make it four. Both teams were able to score in the opening frame, but after 40 minutes the Clippers took a lead 4–3 after Trevor Fitzgerald and Sturos both scored on the power play and Sturos netted a shorthanded tally as well. The third period was played mostly in the Nanaimo zone, and the Bulldogs were able to tie the game when Matthew Hansen’s second goal of the game beat Nanaimo goaltender Derek Dun. As time ticked down, the Clippers were off to overtime for a third time in four games. This overtime, however, didn’t end in the Clippers favour, as Fitzgerald took a four-minute high-sticking penalty and Alberni’s Kurt Gosselin took advantage of the extra man and Nanaimo’s winning streak.
The Clippers played their final home game of the season on Sunday, Mar. 9 against the visiting West Kelowna Warriors. The first period looked like the Clippers were going to take total control when Mason Mitchell and Matthew Grant gave Nanaimo a 2–0 lead. The Clippers held the lead going into the final 20 minutes, and the final frame was full of high intensity, hard-hitting hockey. But the Warriors hit the Clippers where it counts—on the score board. West Kelowna scored three unanswered goals, two on the power play, and took the 3–2 victory.
The Clippers began the playoffs against rivals Alberni Valley last week, and all season these two teams have battled against each other for bragging rights. Prior to game one, Clippers game day coordinator Emily Rae said the series would be tough, but Nanaimo has a good chance of advancing to the second round.
“I think the Clippers are looking very strong. Our injuries have drastically reduced, new players have picked up on our style of play quickly, and we are playing an aggressive style hockey, which will be great come playoffs,” Rae says.
If the series advances to a fifth and deciding game, catch all the action at Frank Crane Arena on Wednesday, Mar. 20.