In two years, the BCHL will celebrate its 60th year of Junior A ice hockey. With the 60th year of Junior A hockey on the horizon, the 2019-2020 season is shaping up to be something very special for the Nanaimo Clippers.
If you search the NHL database, it is pretty hard to find a goaltender that is near a .945 save percentage which means on 100 shots, 94.5 are saved. Imagine an NHL goalie with that save percentage. Visions of the Stanley Cup are in the forefront.
The BCHL record for save percentage was set in the 2016-2017 by Darion Hanson of the Vernon Vipers at .945 after he surpassed a record of .934 by Michael Garteig of the Powell River Kings set during the 2010- 2011 season. It was thought, at the time, that the record was unbreakable but records are there to be broken.
The Clippers spent a significant amount of time before the season attempting to recruit a goaltending dual that potentially could bring a National Championship to Nanaimo. The Clippers signed Blake Wood, a local talent, to the team but were forced to search for a capable goalie in Zach Bennett from Manitoba with the early season injury of starter, Jordan Naylor. Unfortunately, despite the three excellent goaltenders, staff made the difficult decision of moving Wood to the Victoria Grizzlies, thus keeping the other two goalies.
After 23 games or 40% of the entire schedule, the decision proved to be a good one as the Clippers have two of the top four goalies in the entire BCHL right now.
While it’s nice to write about how good the goaltending is for the Clippers this year, what is unusual is the staggering statistics of the goalies which puts both goalies on pace to break the BCHL records for save percentage.
Jordan Naylor, who has always been one of the top 2000 goalies in the entire country throughout his minor years, suffered an early-season setback with injuries but immediately jumped into play to dominate most games. His record is 9-1-1 and a staggering .951 save percentage and 1.53 goals-against average. At this point, he’s significantly above the BCHL save record.
Zachary Bennett, a highly taunted Manitoba prospect, is also at the league record of .943 save percentage and at a 1.91 goals-against average.
Ken McPhalen, goaltender coach for the Clippers noted “One of the significant pieces of the puzzle of making a National Champion is to have unbelievable goaltending and I can’t be more happy than this year, we have not one but two of the best goalies in Junior A hockey in North America. Our defensive core has being great this year but when they falter, our goaltending has been superb. We cannot be any happier on our choices as we have two goalies that potentially could be high-level Pros down the line.”
So how are the two goalies for the Clippers both set to break a record in a 58 year old league? There is no question that the goaltending tandem of Naylor and Bennett has been the envy of the BCHL but part of the reason for success is the elite level defence core of the Clippers. The defensive core is led by 4 year veteran Devon Mussio who is a shutdown artist while in the top 20 in the league for defencemen scoring. Add to Mussio, the Clippers have an elite top 4 defensive core in Aiden Hanson-Bukata, Robby Drazner and Trevor LeDonne. Even the third pairing, with 16-year-old Jack O’Brien and Princeton University commit, Mike Kennedy, have impressed. Add to that, the coaching staff has encouraged a defence first mentality for the entire team.
It’s only 23 games into the season but definitely the Clippers have something very special in the goalmouth this year.