The Cowichan Valley Capitals appear to have turned a corner since Christmas, but head coach Bob Beatty knows his team still has its work cut out for it as far as making the B.C. Hockey League playoffs goes.
"We’ve won four of five since the break, and we’re happy with that," he said. "Unfortunately, that’s probably the rate we’re going to have to play to get into the playoffs."
Since roaring back from Christmas with a 6-2 win over the Powell River Kings, the Caps have added four move victories to their total, but remain fifth in the Island Division.
The recent success has come despite a team-wide bout with the flu and several nagging injuries, including one that forced veteran Thomas Gobeil to miss two games last weekend. Among the players to step up lately are the young trio of Kade Kehoe, Ryan Burton and Adam Osczevski, who have combined for 19 points in the last four games.
"They’ve found some chemistry," Beatty said. "They’ve played extremely well and faced some good competition too. It’s definitely a good sign."
Fellow youngster Sean Harrison has continued his consistently strong play, while defencemen Ben Verrall, Mitch Stapley and Jake Switzer have come into their own as well.
On Tuesday, Dec. 30, Harrison scored the game-winner as the Caps edged the Victoria Grizzlies 4-3 in overtime after Darien Craighead forced the extra session with his late goal. Kehoe scored twice in regulation, while Burton and Skylar Pacheco each had two assists in the contest. Matt Zentner earned the win in net, making 33 saves on 36 shots.
Back in Victoria last Friday, the Caps were doubled up 6-3, with Harrison, Luke Santerno and Julien Lepage providing the goals, while Pacheco counted another two helpers. Zentner faced 34 shots and turned aside 28.
At home on Saturday, the Caps came back from a 3-2 third-period deficit to dump the league-worst Surrey Eagles 6-4. Burton led the way with a goal and three assists, while Kehoe scored once and added two helpers. Craighead and Osczevski each had a goal and an assist, while Harrison and Daniel Wanner rounded out the scoring. Zentner picked up another victory by making 20 saves on 24 shots.
Finally, the Caps got by the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 5-4 in Port Alberni last Sunday. Osczevski scored the lone goal of the third period, which stood up as the game winner. He, Kehoe, Craighead and Pacheco each recorded a goal and an assist, with Brodie Smith adding the other goal. Rylan Bechtel had three helpers, and Burton added two. Zentner was back between the pipes again and stopped 38 of 42 shots for the win.
With 15 wins, 24 losses, one tie and one overtime defeat, the Caps have 32 points, eight fewer than the Bulldogs, who still occupy the final Island Division playoff berth. The Bulldogs also have six games in hand on the Caps.
Beatty hasn’t given up hope on narrowing that gap, which shows in his approach to the league’s trade deadline this Saturday. Beatty doesn’t plan on trading any of his 20-year-olds.
"The vultures are circling, obviously, with our start. We’ve played fairly well the last few weeks, but we haven’t made up the ground we would have liked. But we’re not throwing in the towel."
The Caps host the Nanaimo Clippers this Friday and the Grizzlies next Tuesday, both games starting at 7 p.m.