Caps attract attention on eve of season

"They’re chomping at the bit. They’re ready to start the season.”

In the hopes of ending their lengthy playoff drought, the Cowichan Valley Capitals made a lot of changes over the offseason, and while the full impact of those changes won’t be seen until the B.C. Hockey League season gets under way later this week, someone has taken notice.

When the Canadian Junior Hockey League preseason rankings were released last week, the Caps were tabbed for an honourable mention. The other BCHL teams to crack the national rankings were the league’s finalists from last season — the Penticton Vees at No. 1 and the Nanaimo Clippers at No. 10 — and the Prince George Spruce Kings at No. 15.

The rankings are based entirely on perception, however, so head coach Bob Beatty doesn’t put a lot of stock in them.

“I guess it’s a compliment, but it doesn’t mean anything unless we perform,” he said. “We’ll look at the standings and decide if we’re successful.”

The Caps wrapped up the exhibition season over the weekend, finishing with four wins and two losses. Their last three games included a 6-5 overtime win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs last Wednesday, a 5-3 loss to the Clippers in Nanaimo last Friday, and a 2-1 win over the Clippers at the Island Savings Centre on Saturday.

Standing out for the Caps down the stretch were Luke Santerno, who scored all three goals in Nanaimo, with Jake Switzer recording a couple of assists; newcomer Jared Domin, who potted the overtime winner against Alberni; and Mackenzie Bauer, whose goal on Saturday was his second game-winner of the preseason.

The Caps also got outstanding netminding from returnee Lane Michasiw and major junior veteran Storm Phaneuf, who are expected to form a strong tandem this season.

“I thought our goaltending was solid, even in the loss in Nanaimo,” Beatty said. “Lane made 15 stops in the first period. He kept us in the game.”

With the preseason now over, the Cowichan coaches are working to sort out the lineup they will take into the season opener on Friday. With a couple of final cuts to make and players being made available by other teams, there are some tough decisions to make.

“It’s convoluted right now,” Beatty said.

The Caps let three players go on Saturday, including two that they are planning to affiliate: Cowichan Valley minor hockey product Keenan Eddy, who will play with the Kerry Park Islanders, and defenceman Joe Gage, who will also play junior B on the Island.

“Keenan had a good camp,” Beatty said. “He plays the game the right way. He has some future, some upside. [Kerry Park head coach Aaron Spotts] said he’s going to play in all situations. He’s a guy we certainly will utilize.”

Also released on Saturday was 19-year-old American forward Jake Simons, who had 65 points in 33 games as a high-schooler last year.

“The guys who have been here have worked extremely hard and they’ve made some tough decisions necessary,” Beatty said.

In another move over the weekend, the Caps traded veteran forward Brodie Smith to Alberni.

Among the players who will start the season with the Caps are two 16-year-olds: local product Kyle Topping and fellow forward Shawn Kennedy. Topping recently returned to the Caps from the Kelowna Rockets’ camp, and Ryan Hogg, another Cowichan minor hockey product, came back to the Caps from the Victoria Royals’ camp. Hogg played last season as a 16-year-old and is still considered an under-ager this year.

“I thought Ryan played his best game this fall on Saturday night,” Beatty said. “He scored a goal, and we were really happy with his play.”

Bolstering the lineup this year is a trio of imports: forwards Jared Domin and Matt Hudie, and defenceman Josh Owings, all of whom played for the Little Caesars U18 team in Michigan last year.

“They came to our Michigan camp and we were able to see them there and recruit them over the summer,” Beatty said. “They seem to be very happy here, and they will certainly be good players.”

The Caps will begin the regular season this weekend with a pair of home games, hosting the Victoria Grizzlies Friday at 7 p.m. and Alberni Valley on Saturday, also at 7 p.m.

“We’re excited about Friday night for sure,” Beatty said. “The guys have worked extremely hard in camp and through the exhibition games. They’re chomping at the bit. They’re ready to start the season.”