A trio of wins on the weekend vaulted the Cowichan Valley Capitals into first place in the Island Division and clinched the team spot in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.
Even though 16 of the league’s 17 teams advance to the postseason, Capitals head coach Mike Vandekamp acknowledged it’s comforting to know his team will definitely be one of them. Last season, the Caps were the last team to secure a playoff berth.
“Especially this early in the year, it’s good to know we’ll be in the playoffs,” the coach said. “All along, the goal was to be ready for the playoffs, so now we’ll try to finish as high as we can. It’s a tough division, so it will be tough no matter who we play in the first round.”
The Caps beat the Victoria Grizzlies 8-1 at the Q Centre last Friday, then returned home to edge the Nanaimo Clippers 2-1 on Saturday, and got by the Powell River Kings 2-1 in overtime on Sunday afternoon.
“They were three different games,” Vandekamp said. “Probably the most important factor for us was giving up three goals. We’ve been trying to stress the defensive game and keeping pucks out of the net, and we were able to do that.”
Helping the Caps achieve that goal was the penalty kill, which stymied all 10 opposition powerplay opportunities on the weekend.
“Early in the season, our powerplay was really good, but it’s been struggling lately,” Vandekamp commented. “We’ve been able to find consistency on the penalty kill. That’s something that comes from team structure, effort and sacrifice. There are some things on the powerplay that you can’t control, like the other team’s goalie making a big save. But you can control the defensive side better than the offensive side.”
Will Arquiett had the lone goal in the first period on Friday, then Luciano Wilson, John Lundy, Matt Crasa and Primo Self scored in the second before the Grizzlies finally got on the board with just over a minute left in the frame. Olivier Gauthier added two in the third, and Cole Broadhurst capped off the scoring with three minutes left.
Seven players ended the game with multiple points: Gauthier with two goals and one assist, Wilson, Self and Broadhurst with one goal and one assist apiece, and Nolan Barrett, Dan McIntyre, Cruz Cote and Zach Brooks each with two helpers. Zach Borgiel made 33 saves as the Caps outshot the Grizzlies 57-34.
“We went into that game focused on structure and and playing a team game,” Vandekamp said. “Sometimes, from good structure and food defence, you’re able to play a good offensive game and capitalize on mistakes. That’s what we did a good job of in that game.”
On Saturday, the Clippers opened the scoring midway through the first period, but Tanner Sidaway and Gauthier replied in the second, and the Caps held on through the third. Borgiel made 31 saves as the Caps were outshot 42-38.
“Obviously, they’ve got a good team,” Vandekamp said. “They’re big and strong. It was more of a playoff-type game: tight checking, physical. The game played out as I expected it would. We were able to capitalize on a couple of opportunities and we stood tall at the end of the game when they had their goalie pulled.”
The Caps also gave up the first goal on Sunday, again midway through the first period, but the Caps turned things around shortly thereafter. Arquiett evened the scoring with a second-period powerplay marker, then helped set up Self’s winner 91 seconds into overtime. Howard stopped 22 of 23 shots, facing only eight shots in the second and third periods combined, while Crofton’s Derek Krall made 35 stops in the Powell River crease.
“We got off to a predictable start after the emotional win the night before,” Vandekamp said. “We were flat-footed early, but after the media timeout in the first period, I thought we played really well. I thought that was a classic example of finding a way to win a game. They worked hard and got themselves to OT, and it ended up being a big win for us.”
The Caps will head out on their last three-game road trip of the season this weekend as they visit the Wenatchee Wild, West Kelowna Warriors and Coquitlam Express.