Pierce Diamond came within 37 seconds of a shutout on Monday night as the Cowichan Valley Capitals defeated the Penticton Vees 3-1 to clinch their first-round B.C. Hockey League playoff series, but he wasn’t showing disappointment that he missed the accomplishment.
“Especially not in playoffs,” Diamond said. “I mean, as long as we get the win that’s really all that matters.”
Diamond made 36 saves on Monday night, picking up his fourth win of the playoffs and dropping his goals-against average to 1.82 through six games, and has stood out as the Caps’ saviour through their first playoff series win since 2009.
“He was fantastic,” said head coach Mike Vandekamp. “Pierce has been through a lot on a personal level and stuff too. There’s a lot going on there that motivated the club. He’s persevered through more than people even know at this point, so the way he played was very inspirational for the team.”
Vandekamp acquired the 20-year-old Diamond from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Flin Flon Bombers at the trade deadline, bringing in a veteran presence between the pipes. The Caps were on the verge of missing the playoffs at that time, but have now upset the team with the BCHL’s third-best regular season record.
“When I came here and Mike told me about our team, he had full belief in us, and it’s a bunch guys that have full belief in each other, too,” Diamond said. “The record didn’t show what kind of team we were going through the season and I think we showed that really well here in the playoffs.”
Defenceman David Melaragni opened the scoring with a first-period powerplay goal, Dan McIntyre buried the eventual-game-winner midway through the third, and Kolton Cousins added an empty-netter before Lucas Sillinger managed to get the Vees on the board with 37 seconds remaining, after Penticton had pulled goalie Jack LaFontaine for the extra attacker.
Melaragni also scored the Caps’ lone goal on Saturday as they missed a chance to finish the series on the road, losing 4-1 in the Vees’ barn. Massimo Rizzo led the Vees with two goals and two assists.
Like Diamond, Melaragni commented on how much faith the Cowichan players have in each other.
“We believe in ourselves,” the blueliner said. “We knew if we came out and played as hard as we can, we’d win the series.”
The Cowichan Arena was packed and boisterous on Monday, a fact not lost on the players.
“There’s a lot of fan support here and that was huge,” Diamond said. “I know after last game [in Penticton], we were pretty mad at ourselves for not finishing it off there so we were really happy we could do it in front of this great crowd.”
“What a wonderful crowd tonight,” Vandekamp said. “Biggest crowd that’s been in the building for a long, long time, and very supportive too, and loud, making the rink raucous out there, and you need that at playoff time. Playoff hockey is fun to watch and fun to be a part of, especially in a building like ours, which is a small rink and it gets loud in there and boy they sure did a wonderful job. It was great to see as many people out there as there was.”
The Caps will meet the defending BCHL champion Wenatchee Wild in the second round after Wenatchee eliminated the West Kelowna Warriors on Monday. The Wild swept the season series between the teams, but the Caps’ improvement over the course of the season was clear as Wenatchee prevailed 8-1 in their own rink on Oct. 26, then won 4-3 in Duncan on Feb. 8.
“As a buddy of mine said the other day, sometimes you wrestle alligators,” Vandekamp said with a grin. “And this is gonna be another alligator to wrestle.”
Melaragni said the Caps don’t care who they face.
“It means nothing to us. We don’t care who we play. We’re just gonna give it our all.”
The players will take a lot of momentum from their upset of the Vees into the next series.
“Now that we’ve beat Penticton — they’re a powerhouse, they always have been — I think that should give us a lot of confidence,” Diamond said. “And we feel good about ourselves moving forward that we can beat whoever we play.”