Coach and GM Darren Naylor, who has his Nanaimo Clippers humming along at 20-11-1 heading into Thursday night’s game at The Q Centre against the Victoria Grizzlies, mused about the differences in players from when he played junior hockey.
“We did what we were told. The players have so much more information now. We were in the dark ages by comparison,” said Naylor.
“But I think we were tougher and played through injuries more.”
Naylor came out of the Juan de Fuca Whalers of the B.C. Hockey League and was a decent and rugged centre for the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League for two seasons in 1987-88 and 1988-89 before minor-pro stops from Jacksonville, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska.
All coaches have had to adjust to the times and Naylor seems to have nailed it.
“Modern players want to know why and you have to be a communicator now,” said the 52-year-old native of White Rock.
Naylor kept those lines of communication open with forward Sean Donaldson, after the talented forward left for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, and was rewarded when Donaldson returned to the Clippers in the BCHL this season and is showing why he is headed to the Cornell Big Red of the NCAA.
Donaldson was part of the Prince George Spruce Kings team that beat the Grizzlies, captained by current NHL Colorado Avalanche rookie Alex Newhook, in the 2019 BCHL semifinals. Now 20-years-old, Donaldson is tied for the league lead with 27 goals and is fourth in BCHL points with 45.
“Sean’s style is more suited to our league than the USHL. He’s been on the verge and has really broken out this season,” said Naylor.
“We thought this was going to be a rebuilding season [with 15 new players] but getting Sean Donaldson and Keighan Gerrie back has really speeded up that process.”
So has the addition of goaltender Cooper Black. The six-foot-eight and 217 pounder is from Alpena, Michigan, and headed next season to the Ivy League in NCAA Division 1 at Dartmouth. He has replaced graduated Jordan Naylor, the coach’s son, who is now in U Sports with the Concordia Stingers.
“Cooper Black puts us in position to win every night,” said Naylor.
So perhaps the most impressive thing about the Clippers’ 7-2 victory over the Grizzlies (17-15) on Sunday in Nanaimo is that Black was injured and did not play in the nets for the victors. He may not again when the clubs reprise their rivalry Thursday in The Q Centre.
“We don’t want to rush him,” said Naylor. “Staying healthy is the key for any team. Look at what happened to the Grizzlies earlier this season. It takes a toll. Injuries can be a big factor in the success of a season.”
Meanwhile, Donaldson trails Grizzlies rookie forward Matthew Wood, a native of Nanaimo projected for the 2023 NHL draft, by one point. Wood is tied for second in the BCHL with 46 points but has played several less games than the other leaders because of U-17 national team commitments. Wood has the best points-per-game average in the league at 1.92. Grizzlies captain Ellis Rickwood is seventh in league scoring with 43 points and Connor Eddy is ninth with 41 points.
The Grizzlies and Clippers have split their two games this season. The Grizzlies have been good in Colwood and are 10-5 at The Q Centre. But that looks to be a saw-off statistic Thursday since the Clippers are 10-5 on the road.