With several key players missing from one or both games on the weekend, the Cowichan Valley Capitals saw others step up, leading the team to back-to-back victories for the first time this year.
Niko Esposito-Selivanov and Adam Conquest combined for eight points over two games this past weekend and Blake Wood stopped 67 of 70 shots as the Cowichan Valley Capitals doubled their win total for the 2018-19 B.C. Hockey League season.
The Caps beat the Powell River Kings 3-1 at the Island Savings Centre on Friday evening, then defeated the Surrey Eagles 4-2 the following night.
“It was a good weekend in a pretty adverse situation,” Capitals head coach Mike Vandekamp said. “Coming off a tough road trip, the psyche of the team was somewhat down, and playing as shorthanded as we were, down eight players on Saturday, we still managed to get four points.”
Wood, called up from the junior B Nanaimo Buccaneers, made two starts in place of injured regulars Jack Grant and Matt Waite. The Caps were also missing captain Vincent Millette and fellow forwards Jordan Robert and Ryan Moon, who were injured, and Lucas Vanroboys and Cole Broadhurst, who were serving suspensions. Top-pairing defenceman Dimitri Mikrogiannakis also sat out Friday’s game, then returned Saturday only to be ejected for fighting in the first period.
“It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up,” Vandekamp said “It’s a cliché, but it’s true.”
The Cowichan powerplay was clicking on the weekend, going a combined 5-for-11, as Esposito-Selivanov and Conquest each had six points with the man advantage. The Caps also held their opponents to one goal on 11 chances.
“We made a couple of changes to the powerplay. We were going to do that anyway, but we moved some guys to different spots. The powerplay is something that seems to go streaky in my experience in the game. Hopefully this means it’s going into a hot streak.”
The Caps continue to lead the BCHL in penalty minutes, but Vandekamp insisted the team is addressing that.
“That continues to be a focus for our team,” he said. “To stay out of the box and stay focused in the game. A lot of our challenges are mental, and we’re working hard on that part of the game.”
Esposito-Selivanov opened the scoring on Friday with a powerplay goal at 14:38 of the first period, and Conquest made it 2-0 with 38 seconds left in the second. The Kings got on the board midway through the third, but the Caps iced the victory with an empty-netter from recent addition Brady Lynn on the powerplay in the last minute of the third.
Esposito-Selivanov and Conquest assisted on each other’s markers, and Preston Brodziak got in on both goals as well, while Wood stopped 37 of 38 shots. The Caps went 2-for-4 on the powerplay, holding Powell River to 0-for-6.
Esposito-Selivanov again opened the scoring on Saturday with a powerplay goal, this time at 4:29 of the first. Marshall Skapski added his first of the season at 11:56, and Conquest scored on the powerplay at 14:40. Surrey got one back with a powerplay goal of their own late in the first. After a scoreless second period, the Eagles got within one at 4:48 of the third before Esposito-Selivanov scored another powerplay goal to restore the two-goal margin.
Luc Wilson had the primary assist on Cowichan’s first three goals. The local product had recorded four points, all helpers, in his previous 18 BCHL games going back to last season. Vandekamp noticed how the 16-year-old stepped up.
“He’s a young player, fighting to get more ice time,” the coach said. “He took the opportunity given to him as well.”
Blueliner David Melaragni added two helpers after recording one against Powell River, and Wood made 30 saves on 32 shots. The Caps scored three times on seven powerplay opportunities, while the Eagles went 1-for-5.
Wood, Esposito-Selivanov and Conquest all received honourable mentions when the BCHL announced its Player of the Week on Monday. The award ended up going to Prince George Spruce Kings forward Ben Brar, who posted four goals and two assists in three games on the weekend. Brar played his first BCHL game for the Caps as an AP back in 2014-15.
Next, the Caps will embark on their second three-game road trip in three weeks, visiting the defending champion Wenatchee Wild on Friday, the second-place Coquitlam Express on Saturday, and the first-place Chilliwack Chiefs on Sunday. The Caps went 0-3 on their last three-game road trip, and Vandekamp hopes to carry some momentum from this past weekend into the next one.
“It will be a good test, if we can handle it better than the last one,” Vandekamp said. “Hopefully we’ve learned a bit. It’s about getting off to a good start and playing well in Wenatchee. We can build confidence for ourselves in that. It will be an interesting test, but I think we have a better mindset going in.”