Olivier Gauthier scored twice during the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Vernon Vipers at the Cowichan Arena on Saturday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Capitals cope with coach stuck on sidelines

Whiteford takes reins as Vandekamp serves suspension

Even though Mike Vandekamp hasn’t been behind the Cowichan Valley Capitals bench for the last couple of games, he’s never far from the action.

Vandekamp was handed an automatic three-game suspension by the B.C. Hockey League after being ejected from a game for the second time this season. Assistant coach Dan Whiteford has taken the reins during the games, but Vandekamp has been keeping close tabs on the team.

With Vandekamp temporarily banished, the Caps lost 4-1 to the Victoria Grizzlies at the Q Centre last Friday, but came back to beat the Vernon Vipers by an identical score at the Cowichan Arena the following night.

The Grizzlies’ opening goal on Friday came on a lucky redirection off a skate, and the home team led 3-0 after 20 minutes. The rest of the game was close, but the gap was too large for the Caps to close. Dan McIntyre set up Niko Esposito-Selivanov for Cowichan’s lone goal in the second period, and Victoria scored one more in the third.

Jack Grant made 40 saves in the Cowichan net, and Kurtis Chapman stopped 39 for Victoria.

“I didn’t like our start,” Vandekamp said. “I thought we were flat-footed early on. We weren’t skating in the first, and they’re a good skating team.

“Most of the game was evenly played. It was tied on the scoreboard, tied on the shot clock, but you’re not going to beat a good club with 40 minutes.”

Pierce Diamond made 28 saves and Olivier Gauthier scored two goals as the Caps defeated the Vipers 4-1 on Saturday.

Gauthier opened the scoring midway through the first period and added the Caps’ third goal early in the second. Also scoring were Preston Brodziak — whose eventual game-winner came just 46 seconds after Gauthier’s first goal — and Cole Broadhurst. Vernon’s lone marker of the night came 74 seconds into the third period.

Both goalies faced 29 shots on the night, but Diamond outshone Vipers netminder Aidan Porter, who made 25 stops.

“I thought they played the type of game we expected it to be. They work hard; they tried to grind us down a bit with their forecheck and puck possession. We defended well. We had some turnovers I didn’t like, but we got some timely goals and capitalized on our opportunities.”

It was against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs last Wednesday that Vandekamp earned the ejection that led to his suspension. Cowichan forward Adam Conquest was also suspended four games for a blow to the head against Alberni, serving the first two over the weekend.

The Caps lost that one 4-0 as John Hawthorne, a Chemainus product who learned his craft in the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association, stopped all 43 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season.

“We played well against Alberni,” Vandekamp said. “The storyline is that their goaltender was tremendous.”

Earlier that same day, the Bulldogs announced that Hawthorne has committed to NCAA Div. I Northern Michigan University for the 2019-20 campaign.

Pierce Diamond made his fourth consecutive start in the Cowichan net and allowed four goals on 25 shots.

Vandekamp had no concerns about the way Whiteford handled things behind the bench against Vernon and Victoria.

“The big thing this time of year is that a lot of what we’re doing is ingrained in us,” the coach said. “It’s probably less distracting this time of the season than something like this happening earlier in the year. It’s a fairly natural progression for everyone. Sometimes it’s a good thing for them, having a different voice behind them.

“Dan has been with us all year long. He has a clear understanding of what’s going on and what we’re trying to do.”

The Caps remain two points back of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for fourth place in the Island Division, but hold a nine-point lead over the Surrey Eagles for the BCHL’s last playoff spot. Alberni has one game in hand on the Caps, and Surrey has two in hand.

Next up for the Caps is a home-and-home series with the Nanaimo Clippers. The Island rivals meet at the Frank Crane Arena on Friday and then at the Cowichan Arena on Saturday at 6 p.m.

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