Story & Photos by Alex Rodgerson/ISN
The Nanaimo Clippers fell for the first time in their last four games on Sunday afternoon, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Coquitlam Express in Coquitlam. The Clippers entered Sunday’s action coming off three consecutive overtime victories on the road, but were unable to keep pace with an offensively gifted Express team that currently sits second in the BCHL. Ethan Scardina and Gunnar Wegleitner would tally for Nanaimo while Jordan Naylor would made 33-saves.
Early in the game Coquitlam would look to find their rhythm offensively by activating their defence, with Nanaimo answering back with some hard physical play in the neutral zone. Express goaltender Clay Stevenson would see his first action a little over three minutes in, as Clippers’ forward Josh Bourne would get a quick shot off that Stevenson would deflect out of play. Stevenson would be back at it again on the next play, recording two stops on a couple clean Clippers’ opportunities.
Early on Nanaimo would look to use a quick-transition game to generate offence, while Coquiltam would respond with a high-possession game. The Express would break the ice at the 5:25 mark, with forward Chase Danol firing a shot from a bad angle and squeaking it past Nanaimo goalie Naylor on the Express first shot of the afternoon. With the goal Danol would extend his goal-scoring streak to six games, while with the assist Alex DiPaolo would extend his point streak to five straight games.
Despite Nanaimo leading in shots 5-4 midway through the frame, Coquitlam would spend the majority of the first period smothering Nanaimo in the attacking zone. Naylor would find his game after a tough break on the opening goal, showing great positioning between the pipes to cut down the angles on Express shooters who would take over the edge in shots. The Clippers would struggle to generate any sustained offence in the period and would face a 1-0 deficit after twenty.
The Clippers would begin the second period on a brief powerplay, looking to draw the game even early in the frame. However, it would be the Express with the best chance as Coquitlam forward Christian Sanda would find himself in alone on Naylor from the blue line in. Sanda would elect to deek to the backhand but Naylor would stay right with him, kicking the puck aside for one of his thirteen second period saves.
Some confusing moments would follow near the midway mark of the period when Josh Bourne would free up a loose puck with a nice forecheck and centre the puck for Ethan Scardina. The puck would hit a body in front and look to cross the line, but play would continue for several minutes before play would be blown dead.
After a brief delay, it would be concluded by the on-ice officials that the puck did in fact cross the goal line, awarding the tying goal to the Clippers. However the strange thing would be that the Express took a penalty during the time that was wiped out, yet the player stayed in the box after the goal was awarded.
The Express would be undeterred despite the referee oversight, and regain the lead just after the powerplay would expire with Dallas Farrell departing the penalty box before snapping a turn-around wrister top-corner on Naylor. For Farrell, committed to the University of Maine for next season, it would be his fifth goal and fifteenth point of the season.
Late the period with the Express still ahead a goal, Coquitlam forward Hunter Alden would be hit behind the play and leave the game in obvious discomfort, looking to have had taken a hit up high. The play unfortunately would continue for a good thirty seconds before being blown dead as Alden would struggle to the bench, leaving to the dressing room and not returning to the game.
The Clippers would draw even again in the final minute of the second period, with Gunnar Wegleitner taking a pass in the slot before walking in and firing a hard, low shot that would beat Clay Stevenson to bring the game all even at two. For Wegleitner, who had nineteen points in 57 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings last season, it would be his first goal of the BCHL season. An eventful second period would come to an end with both teams ramping up the physicality with both Coquitlam and Nanaimo looking to take an edge into the third.
The third period would begin with a fight between Clippers’ Devon Mussio and Express forward Dallas Farrell, who looked to settle things after a chippy end to period two. Farrell would be the aggressor before Mussio, a former member of the Express, would oblige by dropping the mits. This would lead to a spirited tussle between the two, with both being ejected because of it.
Coquitlam would take the majority of the momentum after the fight however, with defenceman Jordan Schulting tallying his first goal of the season to put the Express ahead 3-2. Coquitlam wouldn’t quit there however, adding another just minutes later to extend their lead to two on a goal by Connor Gregga. The nastiness would continue after almost every whistle, with both teams showing a high level of disdain for one another.
Just over half way through the final frame the Express would get back to their high-possession game, forcing the Clippers to chase in their own zone instead of getting on the attack. At the 15:06 mark of the third, Coquitlam would pull away for good after a powerplay goal by Christian Sanda would put the game out of reach. Sandas’ backhander would find a hole through Naylor, who was screened by his own defenceman on the play.
Nanaimo’s defence would be guilty of hanging their goaltender out to dry on the majority of Coquitlam’s goals, with the exception being the first goal of the game. With the game now 5-2, the Clippers would continue to play a strong physical game down the stretch but would be unable to find the back of the net. Nanaimo would go on to fall by a 5-2 final.
For Nanaimo the Clippers would do a good job all night stepping up in the neutral zone to intercept breakout passes, but breakdowns in their defensive coverage would lead to the majority of the Express best scoring chances. For the Express, their ability to sustain offensive pressure at even strength for minutes at a time while matching the intensity of a hard-hitting Nanaimo team would earn them the victory.
Despite taking allowing five goals on the night, Clippers’ goaltender Jordan Naylor had a strong performance for Nanaimo in a game that could have ended much worse. I had a chance to catch up with Naylor after the game to get his thoughts on the Clippers first defeat in the last four games.
“The boys worked hard for sure, coming off a three in three(three games in three nights)” said Naylor. “A couple tough ones I want back but overall we’re pretty happy with the road trip.”
The Clippers got off to a tough start this season dropping seven of their first nine games, but have since begun to find a rhythm. Through the first four games this month, Nanaimo had yet to be defeated until tonight’s loss at the hands of the league’s second-best team.
One of the reasons for the improved play of the Clippers is due to the play of Naylor, who came into Sunday’s action with a .910 save percentage while having won consecutive games. The Aldergrove-born Naylor then gave his take on his improved play in the month of October.
“I’m definitely getting more adjusted to the pace and the level,” said Naylor. “I think just having the time up here is really helping me.”
One of the most impressive features of Naylor’s game would be his superb positioning in the crease, more times than not forcing shooters to either shoot wide or into his crest. Naylor then spoke about the work he puts into his positioning.
“Being a smaller goalie I always need to have my angles down and take away as much net as possible,” said Naylor. “I definitely work on that a lot.”
Next up for Nanaimo is a Wednesday night showdown against Victoria.
Tonight’s ISN Scouting Report:
Nanaimo Clippers – MacKenzie Merriman
Play-making forward has great agility and offensive awareness. Generates opportunities with his speed and vision, high-percentage on face-offs.
Coquitlam Express – Dallas Farrell
Skilled forward brings a combination of toughness, skill and character. Hits hard and has extremely high work ethic.