Hometown hero Luciano Wilson and the rest of the Cowichan Valley Capitals salute the fans after winning their first-round playoff series against Powell River. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Cowichan Valley Capitals lament season lost to COVID-19

The Cowichan Valley Capitals and their fans will never know what the 2019-20 team could have accomplished.

While the health and safety of players and the community is paramount, the club couldn’t help but be disappointed when the remainder of the B.C. Hockey League season was cancelled late last week due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You have to accept it. I’m not debating the decision,” Caps head coach Mike Vandekamp said. “But it’s very disappointing for the players and the coaching staff, and I’m sure for the fans, but I can only speak for the coaches and players.”

After a terrific regular season, the Caps had knocked out the Powell River Kings in the first round of the playoffs and were gearing up for a second-round showdown with the Nanaimo Clippers when the BCHL followed the lead of Hockey Canada and cancelled the remainder of the season.

It’s a situation unlike anything Vandekamp has experienced in more than two decades coaching junior hockey.

“It’s something I’ve never dealt with before,” he said. “You’re not really prepared for it, but you deal with it the best you can as players and coaches.”

The team practiced last Thursday in preparation for the second round of the playoffs, which was scheduled to begin on Friday, even as rumours swirled that the season could be postponed or cancelled.

“I think we all were working as normal until a higher being told us otherwise,” Vandekamp said.

Word came down late Thursday afternoon that the season would be postponed, and coaches met with players on Friday morning. There was originally talk that the season could be salvaged, but that was put to rest later in the day.

“Given the growing trend associated with the virus, we are supporting Hockey Canada’s recommendation,” said Graham Fraser, chair of the BCHL Board of Governors. “We believe it is in everyone’s best interest to follow their lead in this situation.”

“This unprecedented situation is not something any of us thought we would be dealing with, but unfortunately it’s now a reality,” BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb added. “In the interest of public safety, we believe this was the only choice that could be made and we fully support Hockey Canada’s decision to suspend operations. We wish our players, staff and fans all the best during this difficult time.”

Vandekamp was devastated for his team.

“It’s no different than other teams elsewhere in our league and across the country, but our group is a very committed and tight-knit team,” he said. “We believed in ourselves going through the playoffs, and we were pretty excited about where we could still take it.

“We’ll never know. We’ll never have the same team together again. The sad part about junior hockey, with such turnover, is that you can’t pick up where you left off with that particular version of the team.”

Nine players on the 2019-20 roster — Primo Self, Olivier Gauthier, Dan McIntyre, Will Arquiett, John Lundy, Matt Crasa, Dimitri Mikrogiannakis, Tyrell Boucher and Zach Borgiel — are committed to play NCAA Div. 1 hockey next year, and three others — Cruz Cote, Brady Lynn and Tanner Sidaway — were in their last year of junior eligibility. Those three, in particular, will miss out on further chances to showcase their talents for scouts.

“We still had a couple of guys looking for opportunities for next year,” Vandekamp noted. “And it’s a little harder to get that done when you’re not playing.”

The Caps usually wrap up the year with an awards banquet, but that won’t be done this year as players were sent home immediately after the season was cancelled — not to mention that large gatherings are advised against — but awards will be decided on and the winners will be notified.

In the meantime, the coaches will turn their focus to the 2020-21 campaign.

“We’ll start turning the page and putting a team together for next season,” Vandekamp said. “You’d rather not be doing it, but that’s where we’ve got to go with it.”

Spring camps are on hold, and the Caps don’t know at this point if their camp, scheduled for May 23 and 24, will proceed.

“We’ll see what happens,” Vandekamp said. “More important is that this issue gets cleared up and we can get back to normal life.”

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