Outstanding defensive play helped the Cowichan Valley Capitals take five of six points over a gruelling weekend road trip.
Zach Borgiel shut out the Wenatchee Wild on Friday and gave up just one goal to the B.C. Hockey League-leading Coquitlam Express on Sunday, and Ben Howard had a solid outing against West Kelowna on Saturday as they backstopped the Caps to two wins and a shootout loss.
“For me, we haven’t been giving up many goals, and that’s what we’re focused on,” Cowichan head coach Mike Vandekamp said. “We’ve worked on strengthening our defensive game. This weekend, we gave up three goals. That’s pretty good.
“Our goaltending has been solid. I think we’ve been good on the penalty kill. We’ve been good when it comes to managing the puck, for the most part. It’s a combination of things. It’s good to see the goaltenders playing well.”
The Caps opened with a 4-0 win over Wenatchee, then lost 3-2 to West Kelowna in a shootout, and finally defeated Coquitlam 2-1 to end the trip.
“From a results standpoint, it was definitely good,” Vandekamp said. “They were three different games. We had a pretty solid game in Wenatchee. There was a bit of a lapse in the second, but we got out of it. We did not play well in West Kelowna. We were sloppy, we took too many penalties, we were not as sharp as we needed to be. But we did take it to the shootout and we did get a point.”
Borgiel made 27 saves to blank the Wild, who eliminated the Caps from the BCHL playoffs last spring, and Primo Self scored in the first and second periods. Luciano Wilson and Olivier Gauthier added third-period goals as Cowichan had 36 shots on Wenatchee goalie Daniel Chenard.
Will Arquiett and Brady Lynn staked the Caps to a 2-0 lead in the first period against West Kelowna, the second-worst team in the league, on Saturday, but the Warriors replied with two in the second, sending the game to overtime, and then to a shootout. Matt Crasa and Wilson were denied in the shootout, while West Kelowna’s first and third shooters scored. Howard made 28 saves through regulation and overtime as the Caps were outshot 30-29. Defenceman Austin Chorney played in his 200th BCHL game, starting against the team that traded him to Cowichan at the deadline.
The Caps responded well the next day, despite the long stretches of travel and arriving in the Lower Mainland in the middle of the night, becoming the first team to beat Coquitlam on home ice in 24 games this season.
“For us to be the first team to do that was a pretty good accomplishment,” Vandekamp acknowledged.
Just 23 seconds into the game, Dan McIntyre was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for checking from behind, and was later suspended for four games. Gauthier opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal as the Caps killed off the penalty, but the Express answered back with the first powerplay goal the Caps have allowed this month.
(In addition to owning the league’s best record and being nearly unbeatable at home, the Express also happen to have the second-best powerplay in the BCHL.)
Crasa’s second-period goal stood up as the winner, and Borgiel finished with 32 saves as the Caps were outshot 33-24.
With three games left in January, the Caps haven’t lost in regulation this month, running their record to 30 wins, 12 regulation losses, four overtime losses and two shootout losses. They are eight points up on the Nanaimo Clippers for first place in the Island Division, and six points back of the Penticton Vees for second place in the league.
“Hopefully we can keep that going the rest of the season,” Vandekamp said. “We want to be consistent down the stretch. There are 10 games left; we’re just trying to finish as high as we can in the standings and play well. We still can play better, which is a good thing. You don’t want to peak in January. We want to be ready for February and early March. There’s a lot of work to do to be ready for the playoffs.”
The Caps visit the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Wednesday, then play host to the Nanaimo Clippers on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“The Saturday game at home is a big game, for obvious reasons: standings, rivalries,” Vandekamp said. “We’d like to get a good crowd out and keep building momentum that way too.”