Brian Passmore could tell that there was something off about his team.
“The energy level was low,” the Cowichan Valley Capitals’ head coach said of his team’s performance in back-to-back losses last weekend. “It wasn’t our team. We didn’t play well at all. We started at a high pace, and then their pipes just shut off on them.”
Players went home after the game and noticed they had more COVID-19 symptoms, so they got tested, and sure enough, there were enough positives for the Caps to have all team activities cancelled by the B.C. Hockey League for five days, including all practices and two games. The Langley Rivermen — who the Caps were supposed to play this Wednesday — and the Penticton Vees were also put on pause for five days due to COVID-19 protocols.
As of Wednesday, the plan for the Caps was to sit tight this week, then get back to practice on Sunday in anticipation of their next game, a home date with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
“We’ve got a whole week to plan for the future,” Passmore shrugged.
The Caps had only just returned from their Christmas break, with enough time to play three games before being shut down. The Caps’ first game back saw them continue their strong play from the first part of December with a win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs at Weyerhauser Arena, but they struggled to keep that success going into the New Year, with back-to-back losses on home ice.
The first game back was a success as the Caps beat the Bulldogs 3-2. Ethan Anstey opened the scoring with his first BCHL goal in the first period. The Bulldogs tied the score in the second, but Massimo Sarantos Lombardi restored Cowichan’s lead with his eighth. Matteo Turrin scored his first as a Cap to make it 3-1 in the third before the Bulldogs added one more. McCoy Bidewell made 36 saves as the Caps were outshot 38-25.
The Bulldogs turned the tables on the Caps three nights later, with a 2-0 win over the home team at the Cowichan Arena on New Year’s Day. After a scoreless first period, the Bulldogs notched one in the second and added an empty-netter in the third. Bidewell stopped 38 of the 39 shots he faced, while Hayden Dunford made 19 saves in the shutout.
Sluggish again the next day, the Caps lost 5-2 at home to the Powell River Kings. Luke Haymes and Turrin each had a goal and an assist in the loss. Matthew Hutchinson made 23 saves for the Caps, making his first appearance in a Cowichan sweater since the Vancouver Giants picked him up in the Western Hockey League’s bantam draft last month. Hutchison had been training with the Giants and was back on the Island, so the Caps brought him in to give Bidewell and Evan May a break. The Caps had been carrying three goaltenders, but Ben Montgomery was unhappy with that situation and has since been released.
Over the three games, the Caps went a combined 0-for-8 on the powerplay. They managed to hold Alberni to 0-for-7, but allowed three powerplay goals to the Kings on six chances.
Through the weekend games, the Caps now have 17 points, and are tied with the Coquitlam Express for the last playoff spot in the Coastal Conference, although the Express have four games in hand. The loss to Powell River was big, putting the Caps five points back of the seventh-place Kings when a win would have put them within one point.
Passmore still has confidence in his team going forward.
“I like our team,” he said. “I like how we play. We’re not afraid to play anyone.”
The junior A trade deadline is approaching on Monday, Jan. 10, and Passmore hopes to add some pieces for the home stretch. The team has brought in a couple of players already in 2022, getting 2002-born forward K.T. Walters from the Battlefords North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for future considerations and re-signing 2002-born forward Adam Grenier, who had been playing with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Bonnyville Pontiacs, but expressed a desire to return to B.C.
Walters hails from Vernon, and posted 11 goals and 21 points in 27 games with the North Stars this season after putting up a pair of assists in three games in 2020-21. Grenier had a goal and eight helpers in 18 games with Bonnyville this season after recording three assists in 17 games with the Caps in the 2020-21 pod season.