My reaction to the hiring of Mike Vandekamp to coach the Cowichan Valley Capitals was probably much the same as everyone else’s. In short, this is a huge move forward for owner Ray Zhang and the hockey club.
“He’s a high-profile coach, probably one of the highest-profile coaches in the league in my estimation,” said Caps’ board of directors member Shari Paterson. “The opportunity was presented to us and Ray took the step for us to do this.
“I think it’s going to improve the quality of the hockey, it’s going to improve the attendance and the atmosphere in the building.”
Vandekamp, 46, has enjoyed success wherever he’s coached, with a resume that includes four years each in Merritt and Vernon of the B.C. Hockey League, two seasons with the Western Hockey’s Prince George Cougars and four years with Grande Prairie in the Alberta Junior Hockey League before coming back to the BCHL for a run of nearly seven seasons in Nanaimo.
The first thing Vandekamp had to do after his tenure with the Clippers ended was some soul-searching.
“I had a tough few months where I was out of the game,” he pointed out. “Being in the game my whole life, it was certainly different. It makes you reflect a little bit.
“I quickly realized it is who I am. I clearly came to the conclusion I wanted to stay in the game. It didn’t take long to come to that conclusion.”
Vandekamp also needed to consider his family and how they factored into any decisions he might make. With his teenage son and daughter settled into school and comfortable with their friends and wife Lana entrenched in Nanaimo, he didn’t want to uproot them so geography certainly entered into the equation with the Capitals’ position.
“For personal reasons, that was certainly appealing,” Vandekamp indicated.
He’ll be able to keep the family home in Nanaimo while travelling back and forth to Duncan and also staying over in the Valley, on occasion, as his duties require. He can tow down the family R.V. for temporary accommodations.
As for the situation on the ice, Vandekamp isn’t promising to be a saviour and knows there’s some tough work ahead.
“The team didn’t finish very well last year at the bottom of the pile in the league,” he conceded. “I’m really looking forward to that – just the challenge in building something.”
BCHL teams tend to go in one of two directions – either with a young person on the rise in the coaching ranks or someone with considerable experience. The Caps clearly needed to go in the latter direction at this point to show fans they’re serious about competing and Vandekamp fits the bill perfectly.
He said it’s all about surrounding yourself with good people no matter where the franchise is located in the league.
“Now more than ever you can have success in any of the 17 places,” Vandekamp noted. “It comes down to the people working for you and around the club.”
He cited three of the four semifinalists in the BCHL this season as examples. Trail, Prince George and Powell River all made it that far despite brutal travel schedules.
“I think it goes to show where we’re at,” said Vandekamp. “You have to have the network and you have to have the connections.”
People certainly know Vandekamp’s name well at the BCHL level and that will be a drawing card for players looking into what programs they’d like to join.
Vandekamp’s strong work ethic comes from his background growing up in Fort St. John and he sees many similarities with the Cowichan Valley community.
He’s a strong believer in having the right mindset about yourself as a coach and your program.
Vandekamp looks at the Humboldt Broncos tragedy as a time for people to embrace junior hockey again and what it means to each community. People have been staying away, not just in the Cowichan Valley but everywhere, to watch more games on TV or staying more connected to their devices than the local hockey team.
“An unfortunate incident has pulled people together,” Vandekamp added. “Life has changed.
“I think people need to power down, go down to your local rink and support local kids and their dreams.”
New life for the Caps reminiscent of the good old days will be a good thing, to see Cowichan Arena jumping again.
“It’s an opportunity to get people excited about the team and where it will be willing to go,” said Vandekamp.
“It’s not easy to win. It takes a lot of work.
“We want to win. We don’t want to play second fiddle to anybody.”
(Don Bodger is the editor of the Chemainus Valley Courier).