Garrett James Photography

Bestwick’s passion for the Clippers runs deep

 

To say Bill Bestwick embodies what it means to be a member of the Nanaimo Clippers is an understatement.

He won the Fred Page Cup twice as a coach, played on the very first BCHL team the city ever iced, and has been on the other side of the coin, representing Nanaimo as a city councillor.

Bestwick went into great detail about the Clippers first season in 1972-73, where they won the Coastal Division with a 31-30-1 record.

“At the time it was just really exciting to play Junior B hockey in Nanaimo for the Buccaneers and then so many local kids having the chance to play in the BC Junior Hockey League in its inaugural season, many of which filled the building, which was the old arena.”

“I don’t know if there was a more intimidating place to play than the old Civic Arena in downtown Nanaimo. It was a lot of fun with a lot of fond memories and the beginning of what is a storied franchise.”

Bestwick admitted while the Clippers did go through some humble beginnings, the support from the local community pushed them through.

“What I really remember is the fan support, it was fantastic, phenomenal really, and I remember really tough playoffs where we had beaten Bellingham in the first round of the playoffs and we lost out to Chilliwack in the next round and it was two franchises that had pretty confined arenas.”

“It was a tough, gritty, and hard-fought series where the hockey in the ’70s is something we fondly recall and I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Nanaimo was led by budding star Mel Bridgman who recorded 87 points in 49 games that season before capping off his junior days with the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League.

Bridgman had a distinguished NHL career that spanned 977 games registering 701 career points and over 1600 penalty minutes with Philadelphia, Calgary, New Jersey, Detroit, and Vancouver.

Bestwick remembers Bridgman as an honest player who gave it his all every night. “He got the most out of his talent. We had played against him with the Victoria Cubs in Junior B and he really improved from when he came here to his draft year in 1975. He was really hard-nosed, really hard to play against, he wasn’t the prettiest skater but he got the most mileage out of his body and skill.”

“We also had Rick Lapointe, who regrettably passed away, but was one heck of a player from Victoria who was drafted the same year as Mel and played for the Detroit Red Wings. We had some pretty prominent players in our first season.”

Unfortunately, Bestwick didn’t bask in the early dynasty of the Clippers between 1975 and 1978 when the franchise won three consecutive Fred Page Cups coached by Larry McNabb.

He moved on to St. Louis University during the 1974-75 season but did have the chance to watch the junior team he played for from the stands.

“McNabb was an icon here as a coach. He also played in the Western Hockey League and was a seasoned professional for many years. Boy did they have some good teams, John Newberry and Barry Pederson, Dave Robinson and Simon Wheeldon, Torrie and Geordie Robertson, and Gary Lupul. The list of players that came through and played in a Clippers uniform in the mid-seventies in their championship runs was really good and of course, they played Larry McNabb-style hockey, which was very tough and hard on the opposition.”

After his playing days were over, Bestwick began his first of two head coaching stints with the Clippers in the 1988-89 season and guided them to a 32-25-3 mark.

He outdid himself the following year going 38-21-1 with Nanaimo before embarking on a one-year stint with the Victoria Warriors in 1990-91.

“Certainly a fond memory for me in 89-90 was playing the New Westminster Royals – they played out of Queens Park Arena – and (we) took them to seven games. We had a 5-1 lead after the first period and then lost 8-5 and they went on to the Centennial Cup in Vernon that year and lost to the hosts. That was a real highlight because we were the underdogs and it was unexpected.”

Fast forward to the 1999-00 season, Bestwick guided a rebuilding Nanaimo squad and made them a powerhouse for the better part of a decade.

“The team was really struggling in terms of its attendance and profile and within a few years we were able to return to good hockey and recruit some of the finest young men in the country and the United States to play in our uniform.”

“In 2003-04 during the first round, we had to win five games out of best of seven series. (We were) ordered by the commissioner to finish off a game that we had won. We had to replay it starting from a power play because Powell River had protested the game. They won their protest and that was pretty interesting, to say the least. We did end up winning our league but didn’t fare as well in the Royal Bank Cup as we would have liked.”

The championship years

One of Bestwick’s best teams as a coach was in 2003-04 where they went 37-15-2-6 during the regular season and dethroned the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the Fred Page Cup before capturing the Doyle Cup against the Grande Prairie Storm.

Nanaimo was led by 20-year-old sensation Tyson Mulock‘s 89 points. He went on to a lengthy career in Germany’s top pro league.

Also up front, the Clippers had Blair Lefebvre, Raymond Sawada, who was drafted by the Dallas Stars, Michael Olson, Brandon Kushniruk, and Jordan Foote.

Longtime NHLer Jason Garrison manned the blueline with Craig Gaudet, Rylan Burns, and David Moncur.

Between the pipes, the Clippers were led by the one-two punch of Denis Berube and Jeff Pasemko.

“Mulock was one of the finest centremen that I had the pleasure of being associated with. When he put his mind and will to it, he was so talented and so skilled and physical for a guy who was only five-nine but played the game the right way. He played between Sawada and Foote, it was a really formidable line that played the game really hard.”

“Garrison paired with Gaudet, who won it all with the Tisdale Trojans the year before, was probably as capable a defense pairing I ever had the chance to coach. Garrison was smooth, trustworthy, and really reliable, and he had a cannon for a shot that not many players in our league possessed. He was a very dangerous player for us and a likable young man.”

The Clippers won it all again in 2006-07, posting a record of 41-12-2-5. According to Bestwick, goaltender Marc Cheverie played an integral part in that second title.

“Interestingly enough, Chevy and Mike Garmon were our tandem and Chevy went to the University of Denver and Garmon went to Cornell. Chevy got picked by the Florida Panthers in the seventh round and I saw him play while I was recruiting. He was a really solid goaltender and the tandem that we had was exceptional.”

“Our team in front of them was really good too and we were a really hard team to play against, led by Taylor Langford – our captain – who won a national championship with his midget team in Manitoba.”

The star-studded group was led up front by Brendan Mason, Tyler Mazzei, who each had 72 points, Kyle Ostrow‘s 71 points, and Russell Goodman potted 31 goals.

On the backend, the Clippers were led by future NHLer Matt Irwin along with Erick Belanger. Irwin spent three seasons in the BCHL and is a veteran of 350 NHL games with the San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, and Anaheim Ducks.

“Matt’s trajectory over the period of time from when he became a Clipper to the time that he left us and went to UMass is probably one of the most impressive growth spurts I have seen in a player that I witnessed in that four-to-five year window.”

“His shot was another highlight for him, and much like Jason Garrison, he had such great hands and to see his growth from a skinny bone rack kid to the man he turned out to be is extremely impressive,” mentioned Bestwick.

From the bench to city hall

From 2005 to 2018, Bestwick served on Nanaimo city council where three years ago, 80 percent of the public shot down a referendum that would have seen the construction of an $88-million facility to help solidify a WHL team by expansion or relocation.

His four terms at city hall saw its fair share of challenges.

“I am a strong advocate for sports recreation and entertainment education and how those things can drive an economy in communities. Our facilities in Nanaimo are outdated and subpar in my opinion and are in need of repair or replacement. We do have to replace the Frank Crane Arena, it was built in the early ’70s. It’s coming up to its half-century mark and it only has 2,100 seats in it.”

“We have the smallest arena in Western Canada or in the Pacific Northwest for a city our size and it needs to be replaced and I will firmly say that anytime, anywhere, anyplace. The arena referendum created division in our city because the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, which was built in the mid-2000s is a failure in our downtown and a real drain on the taxpayers,” added Bestwick.

He mentioned the Harbour City has to grow with its population and the old Civic Arena, which was built in the 1920s, actually had more seats than the Frank Crane.

“There is something wrong with the math of that equation, especially with a city of our size that wishes to be progressive on how to live, work, and play. Look what the Langley Events Centre did for Langley and look at the growth in that area in relation to subdivisions, businesses, and other recreation and sport opportunities. It’s amazing to me.”

“Look at Penticton, a city with 34,000 people, it is drop-dead gorgeous and has some world-class talent that plays there and the venue plays a significant role in the Vees success, there is not one kid they would walk into that venue on a recruiting trip that says no.”

“Look what the arena in Kelowna has done to the waterfront and the downtown. We were in the same place as Kelowna 20 years ago and it was talked about a lot, which city would get a 5,000 seat venue because they both had the same challenges. They only have 400 parking stalls but parking is not an issue, but people who don’t want a venue will make parking an issue.”

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