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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

May 24, 2013, Nanaimo, BC (ISN) – After a successful debut season in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL), the Nanaimo Buccaneers have begun the process of building their 2013-2014 team, as their spring prospects camp kicked off on Friday at the Cliff McNabb Arena in Nanaimo.

The Buccaneers had unprecedented success in their inaugural season in the VIJHL last year, winning the North Division title and making it to the North Division finals where they lost a tough series to the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.

Their success did not go unnoticed by the league, as Head Coach Brad Knight was selected as the VIJHL Coach of the Year, forward Garrett Dunlop was selected as Rookie of the Year, goaltender Riley Medves was the team’s Bob Saunders Community Leadership Award winner and the team was awarded the Grant Pearl Memorial Trophy as the league’s most disciplined team.

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Nanaimo Buccaneer prospects are put through their paces Friday on Day 1 of the Buccaneers spring prospects camp at Cliff McNabb Arena in Nanaimo (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The Buccaneers success also meant that a number of players have moved up to the next level, and as such, over 80 young players are at the spring camp, trying to show Coach Knight and Assistant Coach Glenn Smith, that they have what it takes to fill those gaps.

“We were extremely happy with the success we had last year,” noted Smith. “We felt we could be in the middle of the pack standings wise and ended up exceeding that by winning the division and quite handily at that. We also moved players up to the next level which was very satisfying.”

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While they are both happy with the success the team had last season, Head Coach Brad Knight (right) and Assistant Coach Glenn Smith (left), know that they have a number of key gaps to fill this year and hope that those in camp this weekend can show them the skill and speed they are looking for (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

With two players from last season aging out and with speedy forward Dunlop moving up to the Clippers, Smith expects that a number of spots will be up for grabs. “In addition to Dunlop, we expect that a few other kids from last season will make the jump to Junior A and there are likely a few that we feel won’t be coming back, so I suspect that there could be anywhere from three to eight spots in total that we will need to fill depending on what happens. We also want to look at kids that can be potential affiliate players for us as well.”

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Dante Jankovic is one of many young hopefuls participating in the Nanaimo Buccaneers Prospects Camp this weekend (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

As to what they are looking for in this weekend’s camp, both Smith and Head Coach Knight concur that speed and offence will be a priority. “The main thing I want to see this weekend is offence,” said Knight. “I want to see some skill and speed from the younger guys and for them to put the puck in the net.”

“I also want to see the kids having some fun,” added Knight. “Much of our success last year stemmed from making things fun for the players both on and off the ice, so we want to be sure we continue that this season.”

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Goaltender Nic Kirchner gets ready for a shot from Owen Dalman during Friday’s practices at the Buccaneer’s Spring Prospects Camp (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Team owners Phil and Brenda Levesque would also love that success to continue. “We had a very satisfying and a really great first season” said Brenda Levesque. “We had great support from the community and from the sponsors which helped make it a very easy first season for us. The kids we had on the team were awesome and because we were able to put an entertaining product on the ice, the fans came out in support as well. We hope to keep building on that as we move into our second season.”

In Friday’s activities, all players were put through an initial practice session, with three sessions in total taking place. Goaltenders then completed the evening with their own ice time, in which they were put through a number of shooting drills, with players from the Bucs, as well as some Junior A, WHL and AHL players who hail from Nanaimo, all challenging the goalies with some tough shots.

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Beau Carter-Movold heads up ice during a drill at the Nanaimo Buccaneers Spring Prospects Camp Friday at Cliff McNabb Arena (Photo: Christian J. Stewart  Island Sports News)

The camp continues Saturday at Cliff McNabb Arena with scrimmages beginning at 12:30 pm and running until 9:15 pm that evening. On Sunday, teams will be re-divided, with two scrimmages taking place at 8:00 AM and 10:30 AM. Following those scrimmages, exit interviews with all players will be conducted at which time, a number of select players will be invited back to main camp in August.

Time of course will tell if the Buccaneers can avoid the “sophomore jinx” and improve upon the success they had in 2012-2013, but it appears that all the building blocks are there for the team to be a force in the VIJHL once again in September.