Clippers leading the way in WHSHL
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The Dauphin Clippers were enjoying a stellar 2019-20 season when the world turned upside down.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, their trip to the Manitoba High School Athletic Association AAAA provincials in Winnipeg was scuttled, as was their Westman High School Hockey League championship series with the Killarney-Wawanesa Raiders.
When high school hockey finally resumed to full strength in the fall of 2021, Clippers head coach Josh Yaschyshyn found himself with a totally different looking program from where it had been nearly two years earlier.
“You could tell that we were basically starting from ground zero,” Yaschyshyn said. “The kids really couldn’t do anything during the previous year or so. There was no hockey, no rinks were open and you couldn’t even go on the outdoor rinks. Everyone was stuck inside.”
“When we got back to playing, it was a little bit difficult at first with just how out of shape everyone was,” Clippers captain Logan Chapman said. “Everyone in Dauphin knows each other so we had the chemistry in the dressing room figured out, but the biggest thing for us was just trying to learn to play with each other more than anything.”
After being knocked out in the quarterfinal round of last year’s playoffs by the eventual champion Major Pratt Trojans of Russell, the Clippers have returned to the form that had them as a team to contend with prior to the pandemic.
They have a 10-2-0-0 record and hold a two-point advantage over the Raiders for the top spot in the 17-team WHSHL.
“We’re pretty happy with how things have gone,” assistant coach Jason Alf said. “There was a bit of a bad taste in our mouths for a couple of years with what we missed out on due to the pandemic and last year was a bit of a rebuilding year for us as we got everything together again.
“We’ve gone back to what’s worked well for us in the past and a lot of that has to do with our overall chemistry. We spend a lot of time on the bus together going to games and that’s helped us bond as a group, which has been a real key to our quick start.”
The Clippers have a balanced squad this season. Their 60 goals scored are the third most in the league and their 31 goals allowed have them in a tie with the Boissevain-Souris Broncos for the third least allowed in the circuit.
One of the factors in the Clippers success is that they’ve returned the majority of their roster. Only two players – defenceman Cole Delamare and forward Austyn Roos – aged out of the program last season.
“That’s put us miles ahead of where we were a year ago and we’ve taken a ginormous leap,” Yaschyshyn said.
“We don’t have to teach systems and special teams plays all over again. There’s a close-knit group here and they are willing to pay the price in order to succeed.”
Grade 11 forward William Miner leads the Clippers in scoring with 20 points. Chapman and Matthew Zurba – who are both in Grade 12 – have 16 and 14 points each.
The goaltending duties have been split between Grade 11 student Owen Chubka and Grade 12 student Cody Coombs.
“We’re definitely more of a grind it out type of team,” Chapman said. “We like to go down in the corners, work hard and battle it out to get wins.”
While the Clippers are leading the way in the WHSHL, the team knows that the 17-team loop is anything but easy.
Their lone setbacks were 8-3 road losses to the Raiders on Oct. 26 and the Birtle-Shoal Lake-Rossburn Falcons on Nov. 18.
“Our league is kind of all over the place,” Chapman said.
“The results are kind of random. You could be playing a team at the bottom of the standings and have a close game … then you can be playing one of the top teams and the result could be a blowout.”
The long-term outlook is simple for the Clippers. They are looking to qualify for the provincial championship for the first time since 2016 and they also want to win their first WHSHL title since 2008.
One of the things that’s helping them towards those goals is the chance to compete in out-of-town tournaments for the first time in three years, such as this weekend’s Victoria Inn High School Hockey Tournament in Brandon.
This is the second of three showcase event appearances for the Clippers this year. They won a silver medal at a pre-season tournament in Glenboro in October and are going to compete in the Piper Classic in Winnipeg next month.
“When you go up against the teams from the city, it is a totally different level from what we’re used to,” Alf said. “There’s times in our league where you start beating up on teams that are struggling for whatever reason. That’s not the case at a tournament like this one in Brandon.
“There are teams here that are definitely bigger and faster from what we’re used to, but I think we’ve done a good job of adjusting to that throughout our games,” Chapman added. “That’s something we need to keep doing if we want to go far this year.”
The Clippers finished second in Pool C with a 1-1 record after losing a 4-1 affair to the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes on Thursday night and picking up a 6-2 win over the Beaver Brae Broncos of Kenora, Ont., on Friday afternoon.
They will open up their ‘B’ event playoff slate at 1:15 p.m. today with a quarterfinal game against the Glenlawn Lions at the Enns Brothers Arena.
The ‘B’ event will also feature the Neepawa Tigers and the Vincent Massey Vikings.
The Tigers face the Fort Frances (Ont.) Muskies in an 11:45 a.m. contest at the Flynn Arena, while the Vikings take on the Dryden (Ont.) Eagles in a 12:45 p.m. tilt at the Sportsplex.
Meanwhile, the Crocus Plainsmen and the Virden Golden Bears are in the ‘C’ event, where they will also match up with Ontario-based schools.
Crocus squares off with the Red Lake Rams at 2:30 p.m. at the Sportsplex and the Golden Bears go up against the Beaver Brae Broncos.
The 24-team tournament concludes on Sunday afternoon.
» Twitter: @lpunkari