A pair of losses on the weekend put the Cowichan Valley Capitals into second place in the Island Division as the B.C. Hockey League regular season came to an end, but with playoffs starting later this week, head coach Mike Vandekamp wasn’t going to dwell on it.
“The regular season is done,” Vandekamp stated. “We worked hard to get home-ice advantage, at least in the first series. Everybody is 0-0 now.”
The Caps knew they would face either the Alberni Valley Bulldogs or the Powell River Kings in the first round. The Kings are officially their opening opponent, but it honestly didn’t make a difference to Vandekamp who his team played.
“Our division is very good,” he said. “I think all five teams are good. It’s going to be a tough, dragged-out series. We have to play pretty well in our own building. We have to take it one game at a time; our focus will be on Friday, playing a good first game.”
The Caps needed at least one win last weekend, or for the Bulldogs to beat the Nanaimo Clippers on Sunday, and none of it worked out. The Clippers beat the Caps 2-1 in Nanaimo on Friday, the Bulldogs beat the Caps 2-1 in Duncan on Saturday, and Nanaimo trounced Alberni 6-1 on Sunday. The Clippers finished with 78 points to the Caps’ 77.
“Obviously they were two tough games on the weekend,” Vandekamp said of his team’s losses. “They were both a little different. It was a little bit of tough luck, to be honest.”
The Nanaimo game was “as close as you can get,” he observed. The Clippers made the unusual decision to pull their goaltender with the score tied late in the game, and it paid off when they took the lead on a shorthanded goal. Tyrell Boucher scored Cowichan’s lone goal, a second-period powerplay marker, while Zach Borgiel had 39 saves as the Caps were outshot 41-31.
The Bulldogs scored twice in the opening period on Saturday, but the Caps were the better team after that.
“We were a little sluggish in the first,” Vandekamp admitted. “But from then on, it was a dominant effort.”
Unfortunately, they ran into a hot goalie as Alberni’s Luke Pearson made 54 saves, in addition to the six posts or crossbars that Cowichan shooters hit.
John Lundy cut the deficit in half with just under 10 minutes left in the third. The Caps kept pushing, and with just over six minutes left, Tanner Sidaway crashed the net and was assessed a five-minute major for goaltender interference. The penalty put the Caps down a man for almost the entire remainder of the game. The refs did call a tripping minor on Alberni’s Jackson Doucet that evened things up for the last minute of Sidaway’s penalty and gave the Caps a man advantage for the last 50 seconds of the game, but it didn’t end up making a difference.
Both Sidaway and Cole Broadhurst ended up with suspensions from Saturday’s game that will keep them out of the first four and three games of the playoffs, respectively.
The rest of the team will get into the swing of the playoffs starting on Friday. The Caps won the season series against Powell River five games to three. Cowichan won all three overtime games between the clubs, but the Kings had a couple of blowout victories in their own barn, winning 7-2 in September and 7-0 in January.
Regardless of the regular season, the playoff series will have its own life, said Vandekamp, who has coached 229 junior hockey playoff games.
“All the series had different storylines to them,” he said. “This one will too. You’ve got to go out there, play hard and stick with it.”
The series will open with games in Cowichan on Friday and Saturday, both at 7 p.m., then head to Powell River next Tuesday and Wednesday. If necessary, game five will go at the Cowichan Arena on Friday, March 6, game six will go in Campbell River on Saturday, March 7, and game seven will be played in Cowichan on Monday, March 9.
Vandekamp liked the atmosphere at the Cowichan Arena on Saturday, and wants to see that continue in the playoffs.
“The building was absolutely electric,” he said. “It’s been great to play in all year. I think the crowd we had was a huge boost to the team. It makes it a tough rink to play in for the other guys. We want it to be a tough rink to play in, and the crowd adds to that.”