After finishing the 2011-12 B.C. Hockey League season with a 26-25-0-9 record and missing the playoffs, Nanaimo Clippers head coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp tore down much of what existed and brought in many new faces.
Returning to the roster are just nine players from last season as they march toward hosting the Western Canada Cup from April 26-May 4.
Vandekamp's goal this offseason was to get bigger, stronger and more skillful on offence. On paper, at least, he managed to do that.
If the Clippers had a weakness last year, it was scoring goals on a consistent basis and this problem was not helped any by the graduation of
two-time team scoring leader Andrew Gladiuk (29 goals, 30 assists, 59 points), mid-season pickup Dan Correale (0.8 points per game) and top defenceman Graeme McCormack (12-42-54).
Their top scorer back for this year is Qualicum Beach product Kyle Kramer, who finished second on the Clippers last season (29-27-56).
However, captain Trevor Fitzgerald also returns after a 40 point-campaign with seemingly more room to grow offensively, and the same goes for Nanaimo product Brenden Forbes, who scored 26 points split between the Powell River Kings and the Clippers.
Vandekamp has high hopes for his recruits, including playmaking centre Michael McNicholas and power forward Reid Sturous, both American imports. Also with the potential to add some big numbers is Stephen Hladin out of Mississauga, Ont. and another Nanaimo product, Greg Fraser, who spent the last four years playing for the Prince George Cougars.
It is a group that has a lot of potential, especially if Luke Gordon and Jackson Playfair return from the WHL and players like Jesse Neher and Mason Blacklock can take another step in their development.
"I think we're a pretty skilled group and there's a lot of fast guys," said Forbes. "The depth of the forwards is just amazing, I think it will help out in long runs. All four lines can compete equally against one, two, three, four lines on the other team and that should help us out a lot not having to worry about matchups."
The Clippers blue-line should be their backbone this year. They return a strong core of three from last year - David Iacono, Josh Bryan and Colton Dahlen - but also added a big body with RBC Cup finals experience in the hulking Christopher Rygus.
The six-foot-three, 220-pound Rygus was a third-pairing defenceman with the Woodstock Slammers but has the potential to fill the boots of the graduated Josh Phillips, who was a third pairing blue-liner in Victoria two years ago before turning into one of the Clippers' most reliable rearguards. Also added to the mix are midget AAA products Austin Dick and Chris Newton.
They will have a different look than last year as they should be much more physical but have less offensive punch.
"I think we'll be a little bit more defensive, not as many points coming out of the backend," said Bryan.
"We've got some guys that can play, for sure, they've got offensive ability, but I don't think anyone is going to be throwing up close to 60 points. But we've got deeper forwards and we'll have a lot more scoring spread out through all four lines, so I don't think defensive scoring will be that big of a factor."
Between the pipes is where Vandekamp made his biggest off-season splash, acquiring Manitoba Junior Hockey League MVP Jayson Argue from the Swan Valley Stampeders for Brett Hartskamp, Mike Sones, a prospect goalie and future considerations.
The hope is he can be an upgrade on Billy Faust, who was named the Clippers MVP and earned a scholarship to Vermont.
His backup will be Jarrod Schamerhorn, 17, of Kelowna, who was assigned to Nanaimo by the Portland Winterhawks on Thursday. He played last year with the Golden Rockets of the Kootenay Internatonal Junior B Hockey League. But make no mistake, Argue is the man and needs to be a No. 1 backstop, if the Clippers are going to seriously contend for the WCC.
He started slowly in camp but seemed to find his game in the last couple of exhibition games.
"It took a lot of getting used to and getting comfortable around here with all of the guys, just being comfortable in general and not thinking so much and just playing my game," said Argue.