Hometown hero Luciano Wilson is joining a B.C. Hockey League powerhouse in a massive off-season trade by the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
Wilson, a Duncan product who led the Caps in scoring this past season and potted the overtime winner to end their first-round playoff series against the Powell River Kings, was shipped to the Penticton Vees in exchange for forward Jack Barnes and future considerations.
Wilson posted a team-high 53 points in 55 games last season, and was second in both goals (19) and assists (34). He also led the team in playoff points (7) and assists (6), and his one postseason goal was the memorable series-winner against Powell River. He finishes his time with the Caps with 76 points on 29 goals and 47 assists in 110 games.
Having spent his whole life in the Cowichan Valley, the 18-year-old Wilson is excited about the opportunity to head to a new community and a new team.
“Going to Penticton this year will be an amazing experience for me,” Wilson said, noting that the Vees have some of the best facilities in the league, a highly regarded coaching staff, and strong support for the players both inside and outside the organization.
Wilson had an idea that something was brewing for the last few weeks, he said, and that was confirmed Monday when new Capitals coach Geoff Grimwood called him, followed by another call from Vees bench boss Fred Harbinson.
“It was a special moment for me, for sure,” Wilson said.
Harbinson told Wilson that they had lost a lot of offence from their forward ranks after the 2019-20 season, and were bringing him in to help fill that hole.
“They expect a lot out of me,” Wilson said. “They want me to play my role and score goals. I’m excited.”
The Vees, who have topped the Interior Division standings each of the last two seasons, and eight of the last nine, are also loading up because they will host the RBC Cup national championship in 2021.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure. I’m looking forward to living up to that.”
“This might be my last year in the league, so it would be good to go out with a bang. I’ll learn a lot of lessons over the next 10 months.”
Already committed to the University of Minnesota-Mankato for 2021-22, Wilson feels this is an opportune moment to get some experience away from home.
“Playing at home was a dream of mine, and to do that was surreal,” he said. “But the timing is good, and I’ll be in good hands.”
That doesn’t mean relocating will be easy.
“It will definitely be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, leaving my family,” he said. “I’ve had so much support at every single game — 20 or 30 family members at every game. The fans have been unbelievable tor me. The community loves the team, and as a hometown kid, to see the fans rallying around the team has been fun. I hope they continue to do that.”
His family has mixed feelings about seeing him switch organizations.
“It’s hard for my mom [Giovanna] to see me leave,” he admitted. “My dad [Brant] is already excited, and he and my brothers [Anthony and Brendon] are already talking about taking road trips.”
Coming the other way in the trade is Barnes, a 20-year-old Penticton product, who had six goals and six assists in 48 games for the Vees last season. The son of former NHLer Stu Barnes, Jack Barnes has totalled 21 goals and 21 assists in 156 regular-season games, and added four goals in 17 playoff games. He was an alternate captain for the Vees this past season.
“We are really exited about the opportunity to add Jack to our roster,” said Grimwood, who was hired as head coach in May, after Mike Vandekamp left for Grande Prairie. “He is an established player in the BCHL and exemplifies the leadership, character, and commitment to a team game that we expect with our players. Jack’s work ethic and professionalism will make a big impact on our team. This is the type of player we want wearing a Capitals sweater. This is the type of player you win with. We expect Jack to have an immediate impact on our team.”
Vandekamp spent two years behind the Cowichan bench, and Wilson said he owes a lot to the former coach.
“Mike Vandekamp did a lot for me,” he said. “He helped me a lot. I credit a lot to him for the success I had the last couple of years.”
Ironically, the Vees were on the opposite side of one of Wilson’s favourite moments as a Cap: when underdog Cowichan knocked off top-seeded Penticton in the first round of the 2019 BCHL playoffs, backstopped by the heroic goaltending of Pierce Diamond. The other top highlight, of course, was Wilson’s own series-clincher against Powell River this March.
“Those stand out the most,” he said.
Now, Wilson will forge new memories in a different sweater.
“It’s time for me to take the next step in my career,” he said.