The puck will finally drop for the Cowichan Valley Capitals’ 2020-21 season in April. (Citizen file)

The puck will finally drop for the Cowichan Valley Capitals’ 2020-21 season in April. (Citizen file)

BCHL, Cowichan Caps prepare for return of hockey

Cowichan will play in Port Alberni pod with Alberni, Nanaimo and Victoria

Better late than never, the Cowichan Valley Capitals are finally preparing to drop the puck on the 2020-21 B.C. Hockey League season.

The junior A circuit announced last Friday morning that its board of governors had approved a significantly shorter-than-usual 18-game schedule following the Provincial Health Office accepting the league’s proposal for a “safe return to play” plan. Other than a series of “extended training camp” games last fall, the season has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The kids are very excited,” Capitals interim head coach and general manager Brian Passmore said on Monday. “After a long wait, they got the outcome they wanted. We’ll be playing hockey again, and it’s fun.”

The shortened season will be played in a “pod” model, where three to four teams will play each other in five different locations across the province. The Caps will play their games in Port Alberni, along with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Grizzlies. The other Island Division team, the Powell River Kings, will play on the Mainland in a Coquitlam-based pod.

Prior to the start of the season, the players will go through a 14-day quarantine period, which the Caps decided as a group to start at 12 a.m. last Friday. They will be able to practice again on March 26, and games are expected to start on April 2. The plan is for players to stay with billet families in the Cowichan Valley and travel back and forth to Port Alberni for games.

A few players on the Capitals roster have opted out of the season, but they have been able to bolster their numbers with three affiliate players from the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and two more on loan from the Langley Rivermen, who declined to play in the shortened season.

The VIJHL players are all 2002-born defencemen who saw action with their respective teams when the league played a few games last fall before being shut down due to COVID-19 protocols.

Corey Lui had 12 points in 12 games for Westshore Wolves, Owen Evers, a product of Shawnigan Lake School, notched six points in nine games for the Victoria Cougars, and Dylan MacTavish, the younger brother of 2017-18 Capitals captain Troy MacTavish put up 32 penalty minutes in seven games for the Nanaimo Buccaneers.

The additions from Langley are 19-year-olds Riley Wallack and Stephen Sielsky. Wallack is a forward who had one assist and a team-high 14 penalty minutes in 10 games during the BCHL’s exhibition season last fall, after recording nine points in 58 games in 2019-20. Sielsky is a defenceman who had no points and six penalty minutes in nine games last fall, and put up five points in 68 games over the previous two seasons.

The Caps’ 25-man roster for the pod games will consist of nine defencemen, 14 forwards and two goaltenders, none of whom have played a regular-season game with the club.

“It’s a completely new team,” Passmore said. “I think we’ve turned the roster over two or three times.”

The coach touted the team’s depth in the forward ranks and good goaltending, but noted that the defence corps is inexperienced. The short season will give the 19- and 20-year-old players a chance to get looked at by scouts, while the younger players will battle for spots on next year’s roster.

“It’ll be fun,” Passmore said. “We’re looking forward to it. It will be a challenge for us as coaches, but they players are ecstatic. They were jumping up and down. They’re appreciative of all the effort that went into this.”