Nanaimo Clippers defender Brett Merner loves suiting up for his hometown team.
The 2004-born athlete is in his third season with the British Columbia Hockey League club. Moving up to the junior ranks as a 17-year-old in 2021, the Nanaimo, B.C. product had options to go elsewhere but opted to stay in the Harbour City.
“It’s been a good decision and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Merner said.
This is likely his last campaign with the Clippers, as he committed last year to study and play at the NCCA Division I level at Colgate University. He is trying to go out in style. As of this writing, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder leads all BCHL blueliners with 26 points. Merner has already surpassed the career-high 20 points he posted last season. What allowed him to put up more points?
“I think a lot of it has to do with getting more opportunity (and) more confidence. (Playing with) good players and, obviously, being on the power play helps,” said Merner, who has collected 14 assists with the man advantage this season.
He also said getting comfortable with the coaches and how they want him to play has benefitted him. Merner notes that he focused on his offensive game in the off-season.
This season, the B.C.-raised Merner is enjoying life on and off the ice with the Clippers.
“We’ve got a great group of guys,” he said. “Hanging out, being around the guys every day is pretty special. I’m soaking that all in. With it being my last year, every game at home has been pretty special.”
Developing his game in Nanaimo
Merner got his start in hockey in Nanaimo when he was young and developed his love of the game there. “You remember those times when you were younger playing with all your buddies,” he said. “It’s a great hockey town.”
Growing up in Nanaimo, Merner also played basketball and lacrosse. He spent some time on the soccer pitch as well.
“I knew I always loved hockey the most, but just playing these other sports really helped,” said Merner, noting they factored in building his athleticism overall.
In the under-15 ranks, he suited up with the Clippers program. “Just getting in with the organization helped a lot. Starting to be more comfortable with the people around it. Just eye-opening – ‘Yes, this is where I want to play,’” he said. Merner also played for the North Island Silvertips Under-16 and Under-18 programs in the British Columbia Elite Hockey League.
Playing for the Clippers
Growing up, Merner was frequently in the stands cheering on his hometown Clippers. He said playing for them was a dream – which has now come true.
“Not a lot of people get to do it. It’s an honour,” Merner said. “Being able to try to put on a show and win some games for the kids who are in attendance. You look up and you see a hundred little guys running around and that’s what you used to be. (It’s) just a little added motivation. I always have a lot of friends and family at the game. It’s a lot of fun just being part of the community I grew up in.”
As a rookie in 2021-22, Merner scored three goals and recorded eight points in 52 games. He was named the Clippers’ Scholastic Player of the Year and the Rookie of the Year. In addition to his individual success, Merner helped the team make it to the BCHL Fred Page Cup Final, where it lost to the Penticton Vees.
“It was awesome,” Merner said. “Just winning a couple of series. As you inch close to the final there, it just gets more and more intense. Especially as a younger guy, it was pretty eye-opening to see. Just being around all the older guys – teaching me how to win.”
“I think that’s what I took from it the most — just learning how to win, learning how to close out games. (It was) just those little things that you might not know when you are playing minor hockey. When you get to those games, you realize it is the little things that win games.”
Last season, Merner scored three goals and had 20 points in 52 games. After the season, he was selected as the team’s Most Popular Player.
Moving to Colgate University
While trying to enjoy every minute of his time with the Clippers, Merner is also looking forward to his next step — playing at Colgate.
“It’s always been a dream to play college hockey, so getting to do that is going to be pretty special. I really like their coaches. (I’m) excited to get out there and meet the guys.”
Colgate is located in Hamilton, New York. The prestigious institution is known as one of the Hidden Ivies and one of the Little Ivies. Merner is interested in the fields of business and economics. Academics, athletics, and the campus itself all played a factor in making Colgate his choice.
“As soon as I got on campus, I fell in love with it,” he said. “Just the community, homey feel it gives. It’s something I don’t feel a lot of colleges have. Especially moving away from home, it is something I was looking for. Their facilities are great. For me, I think it was just the people. I am interested in the way they teach there. (It is) a highly touted school. I’m excited for that part too — a big step not only on the ice, but also off.”