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The recent history of the Cowichan Valley Capitals

For the Cowichan Valley Capitals, their recent history has been eventful. During the 2019 playoffs, the Capitals pulled off an upset win against the powerhouse Penticton Vees.

In 2020, the Caps were ready for a deep playoff run. However, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic robbed Cowichan Valley of the opportunity.

The Port Alberni Pod saw the Caps finish fourth behind the three other Vancouver Island-based teams. The 2021-22 season saw Cowichan Valley sneak into the playoffs at the last minute.

This article is about these four seasons of Capitals hockey. I’ll examine the key events of each season and how they impacted the team. I’ll also note any changes in the team’s roster and coaching staff.

2018-19: Orchestrating a massive upset

After the regular season, the Capitals were in fifth place in the Island Division. Their final record was 17-35-5-1-0 and because of the playoff format, Cowichan Valley made the post-season as a wildcard team. They faced the Penticton Vees in the first round.

Penticton had the best record in the Interior Division and nobody predicted that the Capitals would upset the Vees in six games. After their monumental win over Penticton, the Capitals moved on to face the Wenatchee Wild and lost in six games.

The 2018-19 season was Mike Vandekamp‘s first as Capitals’ head coach and general manager, a role he’d held with a number of other BCHL and AJHL teams during his career. He was with the Capitals until 2020.

After leaving the Capitals, he joined the Grand Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League as its head coach and GM.

Cowichan Valley’s captain that season was forward Vincent Milette. Milette played the previous two seasons with the Nanaimo Clippers before joining Cowichan Valley. Afterward, Milette committed to the University of Moncton of U SPORTS.

As for goaltenders, Cowichan iced four during the regular season. These goalies were Jack Grant, Matthew Waite, Blake Wood, and Pierce Diamond. Diamond was Cowichan’s starting goalie during the playoffs.

2019-20: Poised for a big run

After the previous season, Cowichan Valley became a powerhouse. They finished second in the Island Division with a final record of 35-16-5-2-0. During the first round of the playoffs, Cowichan Valley eliminated the Powell River Kings in five games.

Before Cowichan Valley could continue its post-season run, the playoffs were canceled because in March 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Several junior and professional leagues paused play and the BCHL canceled the remainder of the post-season.

The remaining teams continued the playoffs using the NHL 20 video game, which I wrote about in a previous article. In the virtual simulation, the Capitals advanced the to Fred Page Cup final and lost to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

As previously mentioned, Vandekamp left the Capitals for Grande Prairie after this season. Forward Cruz Cote was the Capitals’ team captain and actually spent three seasons with the Storm before coming to Cowichan Valley. Cruz is currently attending Red Deer Polytechnic School of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

As for Cowichan’s starting goalie, Zachary Borgiel emerged as the number one netminder in 2019-20 after joining the Caps from the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Leamington Flyers. After the season, Borgiel committed to Merrimack College of the NCAA.

2020-21: Living the pod life

There were several false starts for the 2020-21 BCHL season. The league attempted an extended pre-season with regional cohorts and the Capitals were members of one before joining another. Afterwards, the regular season was set to begin.

However, a rise in COVID-19 cases across the province changed plans. Instead, the league got permission to participate in a pod-based schedule with no fans. The Capitals was one of four Vancouver Island-based teams in Port Alberni Pod. Cowichan Valley came in fourth in the pod with a record of 7-11-2-0-0.

Behind the bench, Brian Passmore replaced Vandekamp as head coach and GM and the Capitals didn’t have a captain during the pod. In net, their number one goalie was Lucas Pfeil. He had come from the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. After the pod Season, Pfeil committed to play U SPORTS hockey at McGill University.

2021-22: A return to normalcy

During the off-season, Passmore was busy adding players but his goaltending recruits were poached by the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.

At different points, both Will Gurski and Matthew Hutchinson joined the Giants and the Capitals scrambled to find replacements. At first, it was Ben Montgomery and Evan May. Last November, Cowichan Valley found its future number one goalie in McCoy Bidewell.

Bidewell helped the team clinch a late season playoff berth. Before his arrival, the Capitals had three regular-season wins and when it ended, the Capitals had fifteen wins, which were enough to make the post-season.

In the first round, the Capitals were swept by the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. It was a brief playoff appearance, but it still mattered. Like 2020-21, the Capitals didn’t have a team captain this past season.

2022-23 and beyond: The future

The last four seasons have been eventful for Cowichan Valley. It defeated the powerhouse Vees in the first round in 2019. On the verge of a deep playoff run in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the playoffs entirely.

When the league resumed in 2021, Cowichan Valley’s roster was in flux. After finishing fourth in the Port Alberni Pod, the Capitals were busy rebuilding their team for 2021-22 and standout players helped get them back to the playoffs.

Although they likely hope it doesn’t go this way, but if the past is any indication, the future might just be eventful for the Capitals too. It’s simply the nature of junior hockey.