Two Cowichan hockey teams on their way to provincials

Two squads from the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association will be in the mix next week when teams from across the province meet to contest provincial titles.

The pee wee Tier 1 Cowichan Valley Capitals will head to Vancouver for their B.C. championship tournament beginning on Sunday, while the bantam Tier 1 Capitals will travel to Prince George to battle for their provincial banner starting on Monday. After going undefeated in league play, the pee wee Capitals had to dig deep to survive their Island championship series against the Nanaimo Clippers.

Cowichan was able to bounce back from an ugly 11-2 loss to Nanaimo in the first game to win 9-3 in game two and 7-5 in the decisive contest thanks to the solid goaltending of Will Gurski and two third-period goals from Isaac Leik.

Most of the players have never been to a provincial tournament, but head coach Brett Hopwo is optimistic about how things will play out.

"We are definitely looking forward to playing strong at provincials," he said. "We want to compete with the top teams in B.C., and we feel that we’re among that group."

The team has dominated at both ends of the ice for most of the 2013/14 season.

"Our top six forwards are really good," Hopwo said. "We’ve got a couple of players, maybe three or four, who could be tops on the Island, and among the top 30 in B.C. Our goaltending has been solid, and our defence on a whole has been reliable and steady all year."

The team has become like a family, according to Hopwo, and all the players respect each other’s roles.

"There’s nobody higher than anybody else, and they all realize that," he said. "They’re all pieces of the puzzle."

The bantam Capitals also won their regular season banner, racking up 50 wins and just eight losses through league and exhibition play, including two tournament titles. They swept the Island championship series, edging the Juan de Fuca Grizzlies 4-3 in the opener, then winning game two 10-1. The team includes five returning players from last season’s provincial bronze medallists in Ben Berard, Kyle Topping, Trey Watson, Dylan Hartl and Brad Bagnall. Head coach Derek Topping likes his team’s ability to adapt to the competition.

"Overall as a team we have good speed, and can play any type of game," he said. "We have a forward group that can put the puck in the net, good defence, and a strong goaltending tandem."

The Capitals’ goal in Prince George will be simply to win as many games as they can.

"We know we are going in as one of the underdogs, but I believe if our team plays the way they are capable of they have a chance against any of the teams there," Topping said. "While we have not yet had the opportunity to play the teams attending the provincials, we have played teams that have had good games with them, and we have had good games and some success against those teams."

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