Western championships in Nanaimo

Nine days of quality hockey, including Oceanside prospects, to play at Frank Crane Arena

Oceanside product and Clipper stalwart Kyle Kramer during Sunday’s scrimmage game.

Oceanside product and Clipper stalwart Kyle Kramer during Sunday’s scrimmage game.

One thing for certain — the Nanaimo Clippers are gunning to be the hosts with the most.

After a short break, the BCHL’s Clippers returned to the ice last weekend in preparation for the upcoming Western Canada Cup, which now serves as the Western Canadian Jr. A hockey championships.

A qualifier for the national championship RBC Cup, the five-team WCC will be played in Nanaimo over nine days (April 26-May 5) at Frank Crane Arena.

As for the mini-camp, which featured all the current roster players along with a mixture of players committed to play with the team next season, current affiliate players, and prospects, it was a hard push to be sure.

The players, divided into two groups — Team Black and Team Orange — started the camp off in Nanaimo last Friday with practice from 8-9 a.m. at Frank Crane Arena. From there the team traveled to Duncan where they played their first scrimmage game at 4 p.m., then returned to the Big Stick Saturday for morning practices and another afternoon scrimmage.

The camp moved to Oceanside Place in Parksville on Sunday with another morning practice and an afternoon scrimmage.

For the entire Clipper organization, from the GM and head coach down through the players, the Western Canada Cup is a second chance to right the ship and possibly vie for a national title.

The Clippers bowed out of the playoffs in the first round this season, losing in five to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, but will be one of two BC teams in the mix with the host berth, the other being the BCHL playoff champions.

Rounding out the new five-team tournament are the Jr. A playoff champions from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The Western Canada Cup replaces two previous RBC Cup qualifiers — the Doyle Cup (for B.C. and Alberta) and the Anavit Cup (for Manitoba and Saskatchewan).

The top two teams from the WCC advance to the national championships, the 2013 RBC Cup slated for Summerside, PEI.

If there is one player that is extra pumped for this kick at the can it’s Oceanside standout and Clipper stalwart Kyle Kramer, who at 20 is in his final season of junior hockey — his fourth with the Boatmen.

An associate captain and one of the Clips’ most valuable players, Kramer led his team in goals this year with 30 to go along with 27 helpers for 57 points in 56 games along with 95 penalty minutes.

“Oh yeah — for sure,” the hard nosed 5’10” 175-pound forward with good hands said with a big smile and a nod of his head when asked if he’s excited about getting back out on the ice in the Western Canada Cup,

“It’s in the back of the mind for sure, especially as a 20-year-old playing my last games as a Jr. Hockey player, we’re doing all the preparation right now,” he said, and anyone in attendance for Sunday’s fast-paced scrimmage game Sunday could see the players are into it.

“We had a nice little break, kind of got refuelled and everything, and now we’re work’n hard and getting back into game shape. It’s looking pretty good right now, all the boys are optimistic in there,” he said Sunday prior to the scrimmage at Victor Kraatz Arena, glancing towards the dressing room, “and we’ve got the team to do it.

“We just didn’t come through in the playoffs, so now we have a chance to step back and look at the things that we did wrong and fix ‘em.”

For local hockey fans, the Western Canada Cup is a great chance to see some outstanding Jr. A hockey and support the Island entry.

“At the beginning of the year every team in the league sets out to get to the RBC Cup, that’s the ultimate goal, and any other guy you ask it’s the same thing, so we’re really focused on that,” said Kramer, adding “to have this tournament in Nanaimo is huge; there’s all the right ingredients for sure.

“Being so close to home there’s going to be a lot of people out to watch, it’s going to be exciting.”

Down the road he’s parlaying his hockey skills into a university scholarship starting next year in Rhode Island, “It’s definitely a good opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.”

In the meantime, fellow Oceanside forward Corey Renwick, 18, from Nanoose Bay, just finishing up his senior year at Dover Bay Secondary (to be closer to hockey) was all smiles as well.

“It was awesome; great experience,” the six footer said of being called up from the Jr. B Nanaimo Buccaneers at the trade deadline and playing the remaining 19 games of the 2012/2013 season with the Clippers.

He played two games for the hometown Generals last season.

“I’m looking forward to it for sure — it will definitely be the biggest tournament I’ve ever been in, all the guys are really excited for it,” he said.

“The break that we gave our players was much needed in quite a few ways,” Clipper head coach Mike Vandekamp echoed in the teams press release last week. “It allowed for some players to heal up from nagging injuries, others to continue to rehab from long term injuries, and for all players to refresh mentally.

“This weekend’s camp will provide us an opportunity to get a fresh start on preparations for the upcoming WCC. It will be great to see all of our players on the ice again and especially to see a lot of the players that make up the future of our team moving into next season. It should be a great weekend.”

“It’s an honour to be part of the Western Canada Cup and to host it,” Clipper assistant coach Michael Olson told The NEWS Sunday, adding “obviously we wanted to win our way in, but having said that we have a second life and an opportunity to win the inaugural tournament. That’s our focus right now.”

For more information on the Western Canada Cup including the tournament schedule go to www.westerncanadacup.ca.