The Cowichan Valley Capitals brass didn’t give themselves a lot of wiggle room for their 2019-20 training camp.
The Caps started with a small group of just 28 players to whittle down to a final roster of 23, and were already down to 26 as of this Monday.
“We’ll gradually work our way down to the 23-man roster,” Caps head coach Mike Vandekamp said. “There are quite a few roster rules in our league, so you have to make sure it’s made up of the right player ages and import and everything. It’s not just a simple task where you take the best players. There are other factors you have to take into consideration.”
Training camp is about both evaluation and preparation for the upcoming hockey season, the coach explained, and having a smaller group allows the staff to focus more on the latter.
“We wanted to keep our numbers low and get to work with the team,” he said. “And not have a bunch of extra players we were going to let go anyway.”
With rosters in flux in junior hockey across North America this time of year, it’s also never too late to bring in someone from somewhere else.
“It’s a busy time with player movement,” Vandekamp noted. “We’ll start to identify where holes might be and that might play into our decisions this week as well.”
Camp started last Monday with what Vandekamp acknowledged was a “real challenging” fitness day off the ice, which led into three days of two-a-day practices.
The first week of camp wrapped up on Friday with the second annual Bill Dellebuur Cup intersquad game, won 6-3 by Team White while more than $1,000 was raised for the Cowichan District Hospital Foundation.
The very next day, a the Caps hit the road for their first exhibition game of the fall against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, which Cowichan won 6-4 behind three goals from veteran Dan McIntyre, two from Cruz Cote and one from hopeful Brendan Rodgers.
Vandekamp admitted the players were tired going into the preseason game after the exhausting week.
“We would never prepare for a game on a Saturday night the way we did,” he said. “I thought we played pretty good. It was nice to see a couple of returning guys off to a good start like that.
“We’re a big, strong, hard-working-type team, and we played to that quality in that game. We did score six goals, but I’m not sure that’s going to be the case for us, but we’ll focus on working hard every night and keeping the puck out of the net.”
Goalie Simon Berube, who was outstanding on Friday and in the first half of Saturday’s game, had to return home to Quebec this week for personal reasons. Off-season signings Zach Borgiel and Ben Howard will continue to battle for the job between the pipes, but Berube’s absence makes the process more challenging for the coaches.
“We’ve got a lot to work with there,” Vandekamp said of the goaltending situation. “With goalies, we’re looking for consistency, who can be the most consistent guy. It’s tough Simon had to leave. It muddies the waters.”
Some hard decisions will be made in the next few days as the Caps play more preseason games and narrow down their roster.
“This will be a real busy week for us,” Vandekamp said. “A real productive week for our team.”
The Caps host the Bulldogs on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and the Victoria Grizzlies on Friday at 7 p.m. before playing their exhibition finale against the Grizzlies in Sooke on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The regular season starts Friday, Sept. 6 when the Caps visit the Nanaimo Clippers, followed by the home opener the next night against the Victoria Grizzlies at 6 p.m.