Brett Merner, blueliner for his hometown team, the Nanaimo Clippers, is currently leading the BCHL in scoring among defenders and has his sights set on the Clippers second Fred Page Cup Finals appearance in the last three seasons.
He says his love for hockey started young and was fueled by quality time with his family, specifically his father.
“I’ve lived in Nanaimo my whole life with my parents and sister,” he said. “I always loved hockey and started skating at around two or three years old. It’s something that I really loved to do with my dad. We were always watching hockey or talking hockey, just bonding. For me, I feel like that relationship really started with hockey.”
Prior to making the jump to the BCHL, Merner laced up for two local programs: The Nanaimo Clippers U15 team and the North Island Silvertips U16 and U18 teams. He says these clubs were instrumental in his hockey development.
“I think the Nanaimo Clippers U15 team was my first serious year of hockey,” he said. “It was a big step for all of us on that team. We had really good coaches that took it seriously and it was kind of that first step that you grow with. It was the same with the Silvertips. It was my first year of U18 hockey and obviously another big step up.”
“It all just really shapes you into the hockey player that you’ll be down the road. Playing there, I started to get some exposure from the Nanaimo Clippers in the BCHL which was great. It was a seamless process.”
As he prepared to make the leap to junior hockey, Merner says his focus was always on getting a post-secondary education.
“My goal has always been to play college hockey and to earn an education through hockey,” he said. “I want to take it as far as I can hopefully go after college. I’ve just always loved the thought of college hockey growing up – that comradery, the school pride aspect – I just don’t really think we have too much of that in Canada.”
Born and raised in Nanaimo, the 19-year-old says putting on that Clippers jersey has been a full-circle experience for himself and his family.
“Honestly, it’s a dream come true being a Clipper,” he said. “Clippers games are where I fell in love with the game, having my birthday parties there or just going to watch with friends. It’s a really good community around the team and being a part of that when I was younger, you just really look up to those guys and idolize them. It means a lot for myself and my family. They get to come out and watch every game and share this experience with me. It’s pretty special.”
Merner’s BCHL career was forged in fire as he stepped into the league with a very experienced Clippers squad that went the distance and found themselves in the Fred Page Cup Finals in 2021-22. Despite coming up short, Merner says that season really shaped him into the player he is today.
“I learned a ton in that rookie season,” he said. “I think we had the oldest team in the league. For a good chunk of the season, I was the only guy still in high school. I learned a lot very quickly. It has really helped me down the road. Maybe it was tough to see at the time, but now being an older guy and looking back, I think you just learn how to win. Those guys really taught me what it was all about – just the little things you pick up even from just being around them. It was an eye-opening experience and I loved it.”
Now the captain of the team, Merner takes a lot of pride in being a great leader and mentor for his younger teammates.
“I try to be to the younger guys what the older guys were for me in my rookie season,” he said. “I also try to do things that I would have liked as a rookie, just being there for them and giving them whatever they need. Maybe they need a wake-up call, or even just someone to talk to – I always try to be there for the guys.”
Merner has been tearing up the league so far in his third campaign in the BCHL. He currently sits at 23 points in 19 games, including 19 assists, which are both tops among all BCHL defencemen. He attributes this surge of success to the Clippers culture of earning your ice.
“I think it’s just more opportunity and a little more confidence,” he said. “I’m also playing with some really good players who make me look good. I think it comes with time. That’s something that is really valued here – earning your opportunities.”
Last season, Merner inked a commitment to Colgate University. Reflecting on this accomplishment, it feels surreal to him to watch his dreams unfold right in front of him.
“It’s obviously something that you strive for and when it becomes reality it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s been really special for me and my family. A big reason why I went there is because of the culture they’ve created and the new coach has carried that forward. I also love the schooling aspect of it. It’s a great school with a different way of teaching things that I think will work well with my learning style.”
“That dream of college hockey is close to becoming a reality, so I’m really pumped for that.”
With much of the season yet to come, Merner isn’t trying to look ahead to college just yet. He believes the league has not yet seen the best Clippers hockey and he is excited to showcase it when it comes to fruition.
“I’m excited for where we are going to be coming down the stretch in February, March and April,” he said. “I think that’s where we are going to peak as a group. We’re a younger team and we’ve had some setbacks already, but we’re a talented team that scores a lot of goals. We just have to tighten some things up, but I think the sky is the limit for our group. It’s a great group of guys and just being with them every day is a treat. Hopefully we can get back to the finals.”
The hometown kid is extremely proud to captain his Clippers and, if all goes according to play, will look to lead this young squad on another run to the finals with his strong on-ice play and off-ice leadership qualities