Cowichan Valley Capitals update: Front office changes and new players

For the Cowichan Valley Capitals, their 2024 off-season will be full of changes. After the Caps’ playoff exit, General Manager and Head Coach Mike Vandekamp was dismissed.

While the team searches for a new bench boss, it is busy recruiting players for next season. Cowichan Valley has already recruited four players for next season’s roster.

There are also changes within junior hockey on Vancouver Island after the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League announced it would become independent of Hockey Canada.

This move allows BCHL teams to sign affiliate players from VIJHL teams in 2024-25. The Capitals could sign affiliate players with the Kerry Park Islanders and Lake Cowichan Kraken, the nearest VI teams to Duncan.

This article is about the recent changes with the Capitals and I’ll start with the second tenure of Vandekamp.

A second chance

In a past article, I wrote about Vandekamp’s coaching history. In 2022-23, Vandekamp was a mid-season replacement when Capitals General Manager and Head Coach Brian Passmore was let go.

Vandekamp’s first tenure in Duncan lasted from 2018 to 2020, and following the 2019-20 season, he signed on to coach the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Grande Prairie Storm.

After his dismissal from Grande Prairie after two seasons, Vandekamp returned to lead the Capitals on Nov. 16, 2022. During his first season back with the Capitals, the team missed the playoffs.

For 2023-24, Vandekamp’s Capitals made it to the Fred Page Cup playoffs but were knocked out by the Surrey Eagles in five games in the Coastal Conference quarterfinals. Overall, Cowichan Valley finished with a record of 22-72-10 in the season-and-a-half with Vandekamp back behind the bench.

New players

According to the BCHL’s New Recruits page as of this writing, four new players are set to join the Capitals’ 2024-25 roster. The first new player is 2008-born forward Brayden Krawczyk.

Krawczyk is a product of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens minor hockey program in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. He also played one game for the Toronto Patriots of the Ontario Junior Hockey League as an affiliate player in 2023-24. Over the last two seasons at the U15 and U16 levels, Krawczyk notched 75 points. He’s a young offensive forward that can add to the Capitals scoring.

The next player joining the Capitals is 2006-born forward Kenneth McIlwain. McIlwain spent this past season with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks 18U AAA team. Before moving to the Jr. Ducks, McIlwain played two seasons for Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Hockey. From 2019-21, McIlwain played for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings organization.

Like Krawczyk, McIlwain is a skilled, offensive forward. Last season, McIlwain posted 108 points in 73 games with the Jr. Ducks 18U AAA team. As a 16-year-old during the 2022-23 season, he had 52 points in 67 games for the Pens Elite 16U squad.

The next player joining the Capitals is 2005-born defender Jack O’Brien, who spent the last three seasons playing U.S. high school prep hockey at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. O’Brien’s not a huge point producer, but his totals are still pretty good.

Last season as a senior at The Hill School, O’Brien put up 20 points in 33 USHS-Prep games. During the 2022-23 season, he finished with 25 points in 52 games.

The fourth player joining the Capitals is 2007-born forward Hayden Russell. The College of the Holy Cross commit played most of the last two seasons for a couple of different teams under the Los Angeles Jr. Kings umbrella. Russell is a dynamic offensive forward.

In 2023-24, Russell played 72 games for the Jr. Kings 16U AAA team and tallied 55 goals and 121 points. He also played a dozen prep games for JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, California and posted nine goals and 12 assists.

More players coming to Cowichan

The Capitals need to figure out several situations. This past season, the Capitals iced four regular goaltenders and only Emerik Despatie is aging out. The other three goaltenders could return next season.

As for Cowichan Valley’s forward group, several players are departing, including three of the Caps’ top five scorers. Luke Lavery is off to Providence College, Matthew Swanson has aged out of junior hockey, and Gavin Giesbrecht will attend Ferris State University.

Before Cowichan Valley recruits more players, it needs a new general manager and head coach. As of this writing, only Assistant Coaches Clayton Stoner, Dan Whiteford, Mike Stutzel, and Goalie Coach Nathan Wolfe are listed on the team’s website as coaching staff. Whoever ends up taking over from Vandekamp has a lot of work ahead of them.