The Cowichan Valley’s first juvenile men’s hockey team in recent memory claimed the Vancouver Island championship last weekend, and will play for the provincial championship later this month.
The juvenile Capitals dumped the Juan de Fuca Grizzlies 5-1 at the Big Stick on Sunday to take their first title, setting up a showdown with the Lower Mainland champs on March 14 and 15 for the B.C. banner.
Head coach Keith Mazurenko wasn’t expecting a title in the team’s first year, but he knew his players had the talent to pull it off.
“I think I felt that if we had the guys out that we thought we would, we would have a good opportunity to do that, based on how well they did in midget the last couple seasons,” the coach said.
After a scoreless first period, Morley Scott got things going early in the second, and AP Mitchell Billings added the game-winner a few minutes later. Josh McCann scored a pair of powerplay markers in the third, and Andrew Strobl added another with the man advantage shortly after JDF ended Trent Baslee’s shutout bid with three and a half minutes left.
Juvenile hockey covers the same age range as junior, but the teams fall under the umbrella of their minor hockey associations, and there are fewer games and practices, and the cost is lower.
“We probably have a few guys who could comfortably play junior B without a problem,” Mazurenko said. “But it’s mostly a case of it being a good opportunity for guys after they’re finished with association or rep hockey to play at a good, competitive level of hockey without the same level of commitment as junior.”
Cowichan captain Brad Bagnall and alternate Jamie Roberts had previously played junior B for the Kerry Park Islanders.
For the past several years, there have only been two juvenile teams on the Island, both in the Victoria area, but interest increased this year, with the league growing to six, plus two more in Comox that played exhibition games. Only three of the six teams were carded and able to play full-contact hockey, so the carded teams, including Cowichan, had to adjust their play accordingly for matches against the recreational teams. The players certainly prefer the full-contact games, Mazurenko said.
“They’ve played that their whole lives. To them, it feels like real hockey.”
The three carded teams competed in the Island playoffs, JDF beating Victoria in the semifinal before meeting Cowichan in the final.
Most of the players have been together for several years, which made Mazurenko’s job easier as he guided the Capitals to a near-perfect record with just one loss all year, and gold in a tournament in Comox at Christmastime.
“It’s a strong group of players; they’ve played together for years, and they have great on and off the ice chemistry,” he explained. “That helps with our success. They’ve got the basics in place from all they’ve played. We usually have a pretty good showing when we go out there.”
The Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association and Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association have been supportive of the juvenile program and a major sponsor, DaxTech IT Solutions, made a lot of the success possible.
The Capitals will play a best-of-three series against the Mainland champs at the Cowichan Arena on March 14 at 2:30 p.m., and March 15 at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., if necessary.