After collecting just two wins in the first half of the B.C. Hockey League season, the Cowichan Valley Capitals have won three in a row to start the second half.
The Caps beat the Victoria Grizzlies 5-3 last Wednesday and Powell River 4-2 on Saturday to improve to 3-0 in December, with all three of those wins coming at home. While success has been a long time coming, Cowichan head coach Brian Passmore felt it was just around the corner.
“I think it’s what we were saying all November,” he said. “All we need is one win to get that feeling and sense of belief. Once we get that winning feeling, it’s the same as losing; it’s contagious.”
As part of that success, Cowichan goalie J.J. Pichette, who all but stumbled into the starting job after he was signed from the junior B Kerry Park Islanders last month, earned an honourable mention when the BCHL announced its Player of the Week on Monday. Going 2-0 with two First Star awards, Pichette stopped 75 of the 80 shots he faced last week.
“We’re getting really good goaltending from Pichette,” Passmore observed. “He has really stepped up and helped our cause over the last few games.”
The Caps are also getting scoring from all their lines — not just Troy MacTavish and Ty Pochipinski, who have been productive all season. Azzaro Tinling, Hugh Larkin and Nicholas Wilson are getting involved in the offence, and the recent return of Ethan Scardina to the lineup has been a boost as well.
“We’re starting to score goals, to get more run support for our goalies,” Passmore said. “Guys like that are starting to chip in more consistently.”
Last Wednesday, MacTavish, Tinling, Larkin and Scardina all scored to stake the Caps to a 4-0 lead before the Grizzlies got on the board with less than a second left in the second period. Brendan Cherwalk restored the four-goal edge early in the third. The Grizzlies scored midway through the third, and again in the final minute of the game, but couldn’t get any closer.
Centre Ty Pochipinski and defenceman Simon Chen each had a pair of assists, and Pichette finished with 43 saves.
The Caps have had some battles this season with the Island Division-leading Kings, and Saturday’s tilt was no exception.
“We did enjoy winning that one,” Passmore admitted. “We knew they had played Friday, and we wanted to outwork and outlast them. We were fortunate enough to go up a couple goals in the second, then we held them off and kept to the game plan.”
The Kings went up 1-0 with three and a half minutes left in the first period, but Nicholas Wilson evened things up for Cowichan with two seconds left in the period. Tinling and recent addition Tate Coughlin added goals in the second, just 22 seconds apart. Powell River scored again in the third, but MacTavish iced it with an empty-netter. MacTavish and defenceman Andrew McCann finished with two points apiece, and Pichette made 32 saves.
The Caps have had an interesting few weeks when it comes to goaltenders, but Pichette seems to have stabilized at least one of the two positions. Last Tuesday, the Caps traded the rights to goalie Adam Marcoux to the Trail Smoke Eaters for future considerations. Marcoux had left the team last week and requested a trade. A few days before that, they acquired backstop Caiden Kreitz from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Calgary Canucks, but he lasted one practice before he decided he didn’t want to play hockey anymore.
Parker Swanson has been summoned from Kerry Park to back up Pichette for the last two games. With a trio of games coming up this weekend, it’s possible — but not necessarily preferable — that he could make three starts in three days.
“When he’s hot, he’s hot,” Passmore said. “If he’s playing well, why not keep going?”
Not surprisingly, the Caps are more upbeat lately, Passmore acknowledged. It helps that the entire forward corps is finally healthy, and the defence has solidified, even with veteran Nii Noi Tetteh still sidelined.
The Caps have been looking at the last seven games prior to the Christmas break like a best-of-seven playoff series, and they are currently 3-1, one game away from “clinching.”
“We wanted to find something for them to buy into,” Passmore said. “And they’ve absolutely grabbed it.”
The Caps will be looking for their fourth straight win, and first road victory of the season, when they visit the Victoria Grizzlies this Friday. On Saturday, they will visit the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, who they are chasing for fourth place in the division, for what Passmore is calling their biggest game of the year. Finally, they will host the Prince George Spruce Kings on Sunday at 2 p.m. in their last game before the Christmas break,
“It will be a tough weekend, then they get a 10-day break after that,” Passmore said. “It’s gonna be ‘empty the tanks.’”