When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
This old saying certainly rang true for the Nanaimo Clippers who had to reshape their roster due to the uncertainty of a BCHL regular season.
Once the extended exhibition portion of the schedule was halted back in November, it threw a lot of players for a loop.
Assessing their options, many of the Clippers’ top players elected to head south of the border and play in the United States Hockey League or head to the NCAA earlier than planned.
Scrambling for replacements, general manager and head coach Darren Naylor was able to scoop up Nolan Hutcheson from the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League.
It’s been a perfect match for both sides so far.
On one hand, the Clippers get an experienced power forward who has played at the major junior level, while Hutcheson gets one last kick at the can, playing a shortened 20-game BCHL season before his junior hockey career comes to a close.
In the Port Alberni pod, Hutcheson has produced five goals and three assists in 11 games as of this writing and is among the offensive leaders for Nanaimo.
The Gananoque, Ontario product says it was an easy decision to come west, given the messy COVID-19 situation in his home province.
“Everything in Ontario has shut down again, so hockey wasn’t necessarily an option. We kept getting delayed. It was kind of frustrating on that part and so I had the opportunity to come to Nanaimo and thought ‘Why not?’”
The level of tension in Ontario right now is palpable as they are going through their third lockdown in about four months, with much of the frustration leading towards Premier Doug Ford.
“We got sent home (in) early March in 2020 and we were left hanging on a decision. We thought maybe we were going to start in November and then that got pushed back into December and then again into February. We were training through all of that, hoping to get the chance,” added Hutcheson.
“(The Ford government) kept saying ‘We will hopefully have more information in a couple of weeks’, and it took its toll on all of the players.”
Blue-collar playing style
Hutcheson best describes himself as a hard-nosed player who enjoys getting into the dirty areas and is not afraid to show off his skill in front of the net.
The adjustment going from the OHL to BCHL hasn’t been as steep as you might think for the 20-year-old.
“It’s very similar. All of these guys are here to compete for an NCAA scholarship and no one is taken for granted. It’s hard hockey and they are hard-working players and I am just trying to do my best to fit in.”
“I am trying to use my size as much as possible. I am a big 6-4 forward who likes to throw my body around and that was instilled in me a lot – to use my size and speed.”
Hutcheson is one of several Ontario products on the Clippers, which also includes Thomas Maia, Keighan Gerrie, and Trevor LeDonne. All of them have previous Junior A experience in their home province.
Funny enough, all four never really knew each other until joining forces on Vancouver Island.
“I believe Thomas and I played minor midget against each other because I think he played in Mississauga while I was in Kingston. So we might have met at a tournament once or twice, but other than that, I never had the chance to play with or against the other Ontario guys.”
Dances with Wolves
Hutcheson played three seasons in Ontario’s nickel belt. In 189 career regular season games in the OHL, he recorded 47 goals and 42 assists.
His best year came in 2018-19 where he hit the 24-goal mark for the Wolves, while also amassing seven points in eight playoff games.
While Hutcheson is not eligible for an NCAA scholarship, he is looking at a U SPORTS school here in Canada. In fact, the 20-year-old has already made the decision to stay close to home when the pod season wraps up.
“Right now, I have committed to Queen’s University. I think a lot of this (season) for me is to get more hockey experience underneath me and try and develop a little bit more. (I want to) push my game to another level so that when I do play (at Queen’s), I will be the best player I can be.”
Naylor gave high praise to Hutcheson, stating he has been one of the best Clippers since the season was green-lit by the Provincial Health Officer.
“He’s a big strong guy and hadn’t played hockey in over a year so sometimes those big guys take a while to get going. When you get those guys who have played in the Western or Ontario Hockey Leagues, they have that element of nastiness to them. They compete really hard and don’t like to lose, so I like bringing that around.”
“The tendencies are for (other players) coming to the BCHL, they need to see that (will to win) a little bit and haven’t experienced it yet.”
“Coming from the programs they are at in the academies, it’s a different game. I always like to surround myself with a couple of those major junior guys every year just to show the younger players what the compete level is like and what’s needed.”