They say familiarity breeds success.
In the case of the Nanaimo Clippers, a pair of dynamic forwards are looking to lead the charge.
Entering his third season in the BCHL, Sean Donaldson is lighting it up offensively for the defending Island Division champions.
The 19-year-old from Vancouver wants to assert his dominance after coming over in an off-season trade from the Prince George Spruce Kings during the summer of 2019.
Last season, Donaldson notched 24 points in 44 games before his season was cut short due to injury.
Donaldson explains what has led to the fast start.
“Consistency. I think my first two years I was trying to find my game. This summer I think I took a really big step physically, putting on some muscle, (I) got a lot faster and I think my success just comes from consistency and hard work.”
By all accounts, everything is clicking on all cylinders.
“I think Nick DeSantis is a really good player, we work really well together as well as Brody who is really physical and can put the puck in the net so I like what we have going.”
It’s been quite the ride for Donaldson so far in his BCHL journey.
As a rookie, he was part of a powerhouse Spruce Kings team that went 16-1 during the 2019 Fred Page Cup playoffs clinching the franchise’s first-ever league championship.
Donaldson earned his ice time as a bottom-six forward on a team that had plenty of star power including Layton Ahac, Patrick Cozzi, Ben Poisson, Ben Brar, Dustin Manz, and Logan Neaton just to name a few.
No stranger to success
After dispatching the Vernon Vipers in a clean sweep, the Spruce Kings went on to capture the Doyle Cup in six games over the top-rated Brooks Bandits.
PG came within an eyelash of winning the National Junior A Championship but fell to the Bandits 4-3 in the final game.
It was an exhilarating ride the 19-year-old won’t soon forget.
“Just going back to that first year in Prince George, that was an amazing hockey team and I learned so much from the older players, about their daily routines and just as a team, we were so professional and focused.”
“Last year, I had an injury in January that kept me out for the rest of the year but it was probably my favourite group that I have ever played with. We were a mature team and everyone wanted to do everything to win. We were a group of brothers, but I have been really lucky to play on two really good teams and I just want to help this team (Clippers) win.”
Extended training camp has a silver lining
Donaldson adds that while the extended training camp and pre-season isn’t the most ideal situation, it does provide some unique opportunities.
“Number one, you grow better as a group and number two, younger guys have a little more time to figure out how the junior hockey lifestyle is. It’s a lot harder than just playing minor hockey day to day. The schedule is tough and with this extended pre-season, it gives our team a lot of time to figure out what we need to work on. I think it’s been a good experience for everyone.”
DeSantis’ road to the BCHL has been a unique one, to say the least.
After playing most of last season with the New Jersey Junior Titans of the North American Hockey League, the 18-year-old found his way to Vancouver Island on the advice of his advisor.
With nine points in ten pre-season games, the move is paying early dividends.
“We played Victoria six games in a row and I felt pretty strong coming out of the gate. I liked what happened with my linemates when we had those series of games against Victoria, Cowichan, and Alberni Valley.”
“I like playing with Sean a lot. I feel like he and I compliment each other and he’s an absolute goal scorer with a great shot. He’s quick and with my speed and playmaking ability, we just find each other and (are) able to capitalize. I have also played with Tim Washe and Kyler Kovich, I like playing with them too, but I feel things are really clicking with Donaldson.”
DeSantis hails from Collegeville, Pennsylvania, a community 30 minutes away from Philadelphia.
He admits despite how sports-centric Philly is, the opportunity for players to move up to the junior level in that area is somewhat limited.
— USHL (@USHL) May 8, 2018
“Around me, we have two AAA teams that are long-time organizations but I just felt when I got past bantam major, I thought from the hockey standpoint. I didn’t really see myself going farther if I stayed, so I decided to go to a prep school in Connecticut called the Selects Academy. I played there for two years to get some exposure and committed to Miami University (Ohio).”
DeSantis takes the road less traveled to the BCHL
“I was then drafted into the USHL by Sioux Falls and played a few games for them before going to the NAHL. I really feel like I got better and more mature and then after the sudden end to the season, my advisor thought the BCHL would be a good league for me to play in with my skill set.”
One thing led to another and DeSantis was put in contact with Clippers associate coach Colin Birkas and then committed shortly after getting the stamp of approval from the Miami University Red Hawks.
The trek from Philadelphia to Nanaimo covers about 3,000 miles but the long distance and the coastal climate suits DeSantis just fine.
“It’s nicer weather during this time of the year here than it is back home. In Pennsylvania, the past couple of winters haven’t been too bad as we didn’t get too much snow, but I mean it’s definitely colder out east.”
“The view and atmosphere of Nanaimo is so beautiful that everywhere I go the trees are nice and the water is clear and beautiful. Everything about Nanaimo is just special and I am really excited I’m here.”
DeSantis is passionate about every Philadelphia sports team whether it’s the Flyers, 76ers, Eagles, or Phillies.
One of his idols growing up was long-time Flyer and NHL veteran Danny Briere, who coached the 18-year-old for a brief period growing up.
“I was really close with Danny. He was a great playoff performer and he used to be my coach when I was younger, so when he would play I would always sort of watch him. He’s around my size and how he was able to play the game for so long at a high level and be one of the better Flyers – that inspired me.”
Learning from a Flyers great
“I used to have a little shooting area downstairs and because Danny had such a great shot when he came over (to my house), he would come down and show me the mechanics on how to shoot the puck and the fundamentals there. With the mental game, he just told me to have fun, compete hard, and be around the puck.”
Donaldson and DeSantis hope to keep their chemistry going once the games start counting in the standings come December. If they do, the Clippers could be a force to be reckoned with in the Mainland Conference.