Examining the Cowichan Valley Capitals’ new ownership group

In September, the Cowichan Valley Capitals officially came under new ownership. The British Columbia Hockey League Board of Governors approved the sale of the Capitals to Island Capitals Sports & Entertainment. The group is taking over from former Capitals’ owner Ray Zhang.

This new ownership group contains local investors and former players. At the head of ICSE is the managing partner of Maxxam Insurance John Dewar. Joining him is former National Hockey League player Clayton Stoner.

This article is about profiling the new ownership group. Before that, I want to talk about Zhang’s time as owner of the Capitals, including the difficulties he went through when purchasing the team.

Crossing the Pacific Ocean

According to an article from Cowichan Valley Citizen writer Kevin Rothbauer, it was difficult for Zhang to buy the Capitals. “All capital investments using money from China need approval from the government and national bank,” wrote Rothbaur in August 2016. “No one could understand why he was buying a team that was losing money.”

During his first two years as owner, Zhang’s son Zimeng Chen played for the Capitals. Afterward, Chen attended the University of Alabama-Huntsville but didn’t get into any games for the Chargers. He spent the 2022-23 season in China for the Kontinental Hockey League’s Kunlun Red Star.

Before the emergence of COVID-19 in early 2020, the Capitals were on the verge of a deep playoff run. However, pandemic restrictions caused roster and management turnover during the next two seasons.

Just as the BCHL became independent, Zhang cashed out. He had grand ambitions of helping develop hockey culture in China, but unfortunately, didn’t get the chance to have the Capitals tour China.

Dewar and Stoner

Dewar is a former BCHL player. After playing three seasons of Under-16 and Under-19 hockey in England, Dewar joined the Penticton Vees to start the 2004-05 season. From 2004 to 2006, Dewar played for the Vees, Trail Smoke Eaters, Prince George Spruce Kings, and Quesnel Millionaires. He also had a stint in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with Summerland Sting to wrap up the 2004-05 season.

As a 19-year-old during the 2006-07 season, Dewar played for the Williams Lake Timberwolves. In 55 games, he tallied 23 goals and 48 assists to lead the T-Wolves in scoring. The Penticton, B.C. product didn’t play anywhere of record following that season.

Another partner in Cowichan’s new ownership is Stoner, a former NHL player who last played for the Anaheim Ducks in the 2016-17 season. During the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Stoner was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights but he never played a game for them as a persistent abdominal injury ended his playing career.

From 2000 to 2002, Stoner played junior hockey for the Campbell River Storm of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. He also got into five games with the Powell River Kings as an affiliate player during those two seasons, posting one assist. The product of Port McNeil, B.C. then went on to three seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans before turning pro.

Dewar and Stoner are the two named partners announced in the press release about the Caps’ new ownership, serving as the heads of the new ownership group.

A team in transition

The new ownership group is taking over in a time of transition for the Duncan, B.C.-based club. Current Capitals head coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp took control last season and was busy rebuilding the roster.

Few players from last year’s roster remained with the team – it’s something I wrote about in previous articles. The roster turnover also occurred during Vandekamp’s first tenure with the Capitals from 2018 to 2020.

With the changes coming on and off the ice, I can see the Capitals improving upon their 2022-23 record, where they finished ninth in the Coastal Conference with a 10-38-4-2 record and 26 points. Although Cowichan Valley is last in the conference as of this writing, the Caps are within striking distance of a playoff spot, which is a sign that things could be on the upswing.