After enduring the grind of a long training camp, the Cowichan Valley Capitals are set for their season opener.
The Caps will drop the puck to begin the 2016-17 B.C. Hockey League campaign this Saturday when they play host to the Powell River Kings, and head coach Bob Beatty is eager to get his team into action.
“We’re ready for it,” he said. “The guys have been working hard. It’s showtime, so we’ll see what we look like in the real world now.”
The Caps won just one of their five preseason games, but there’s no reason to base the team’s regular-season projections on that record.
“Exhibition was hit and miss, but that’s part of the evaluation process, so we’ll see what we can accomplish,” Beatty said. “Powell River will be a big test right off the hop. They have a veteran lineup, and they’ll definitely be one of the favourites.”
The team is bringing back just seven players from last year, when the Caps made the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and were eliminated in six games by the Kings. Earning back-to-back postseason berths for the first time since 2008-09 and 2009-10 will take a full team effort, Beatty admits.
“In all honesty, we’ll have to score by committee,” the coach said. “Up front, we’re a little small and a little younger team than last year.”
Returning players in the forward ranks include Ryan Hogg, Ayden MacDonald and Jared Domin.
A local product who broke into the BCHL as a 16-year-old in 2014-15, Hogg had seven points in 39 games as a rookie, increasing to 10, including three goals, in 42 contests last season. Beatty is expecting more this season.
“He’s going to contribute as a third-year player,” the coach said. “He’s going to be in a bigger role. We’ll look for him to produce a little more on the scoresheet and provide some stability.”
MacDonald is the team’s only 1996-born forward. After putting up 28 points in 58 regular-season games last year, he had a goal and half a dozen assists in six playoff games and will be looking to build on that. American-born fan favourite Domin (1997) had 39 points in 53 outings last season, and joins MacDonald as one of only two of the top 10 scorers on the 2015-16 roster to come back.
The new faces include Rhett Kingston (1997), who was acquired last week. Kingston has a year of experience in junior A, putting up 29 points in 45 games between the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and the Brooks Bandits and Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“He has a history of putting up some offence,” Beatty commented.
Max Newton (1997) was picked up from the Trail Smoke Eaters during the off-season, and should be able to expand on his offensive numbers.
“He was a 40-point guy in Trail last year, so we expect him to produce,” Beatty said.
Michael Montambault (1997) arrives from the U.S. Hockey League, where he had just six points in 52 games between Omaha and Des Moines, but Beatty believes he can chip in more.
“He’s a good package and he’s got some good size,” the coach noted. “He’s going to have to contribute on the scoresheet and in a leadership capacity.”
George Sennott (1997) tore up the Massachusetts high school circuit last season with 57 points in 35 games for Kimball Union Academy, and Beatty has high hopes that he can make a smooth transition to junior A.
“He’s small in stature, but he’s got great vision and creativity,” he said. “He sees the ice well, and we’re hoping he can put up good numbers for us.”
Also picked up over the off-season was Darren Hards, who had eight points in 48 games as a BCHL rookie with the Surrey Eagles last year.
Young BCHL newcomers in the forward ranks include Justin Perron (1998), who averaged a point a game in the Quebec midget AAA league last year; Ty Pochipinski (1998), who had 54 points in 36 games with Pursuit of Excellence in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League prep division; Alec Zawatsky (1999), who had 33 points in 40 games with the major midget Okanagan Rockets last season, and recorded a hat trick in a preseason game against the Nanaimo Clippers; and Nick Wilson (1999), who also played in the CSSHL prep division, putting up 22 points in 34 contests with the Delta Hockey Academy.
Kyle Topping, who was expected to be back, recently signed with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and will almost certainly spend the full season in major junior.
“Unfortunately for us, it’s not likely that we’ll see him in a Caps uniform,” Beatty said.
The Cowichan defence corps will boast more heft and experience than the forward ranks.
“We have a more mature group with some size on the back end,” Beatty said.
Returnees Chris Harpur, Ben Verrall and Josh Owings (all 1996) are joined on the blueline by former Chinese U18 national team player Simon Chen (1997), and a trio of 1998s: Nii Noi Tetteh, who played 50 games for the Trail Smoke Eaters last season; Jake Keremidschieff, who had 25 points in 36 games with Delta of the CSSHL’s prep division; and Sean Driscoll, who put up 28 points in 24 high school games in Wisconsin.
Backstopping the team will be goaltenders Lane Michasiw and Adam Marcoux. Michasiw is back for his third campaign with the Caps after playing 50 games over the last two seasons, including 32 as a rookie starter in 2014-15 and 18 as Storm Phaneuf’s backup last season. Marcoux played last season with the midget AAA Calgary Flames, who won the prestigious Mac’s Midget Tournament.
“We’re comfortable with our two goalies,” Beatty said. “Obviously, Lane is a veteran; It’s his third year here. He’ll have the challenge of starting Saturday night. And we feel comfortable with Adam Marcoux; he’s shown well in the preseason.”
Between the new faces and the familiar favourites, Beatty expects his team to play a thrilling brand of hockey. The team includes a mix of speed, physicality, skill and effort.
“It should be entertaining,” the coach said. “There’s a lot of energy, a lot of new faces. It should be a fun group to work with.”
After opening the season at home against Powell River on Saturday, the Caps will be at The Stick again on Tuesday to face the Victoria Grizzlies. Both games begin at 7 p.m.