Duncan’s own Kahlil Fontana will be counted on by the Caps for scoring and leadership during the quick 20-game BCHL season. (Citizen file)

Duncan’s own Kahlil Fontana will be counted on by the Caps for scoring and leadership during the quick 20-game BCHL season. (Citizen file)

Cowichan Caps gear up for intense BCHL season

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

Last time the B.C. Hockey League had a full season, including playoffs, the league semifinals were taking place in early April.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-21 season is just about to begin.

It will be a shortened, intense, 20-game campaign, with the 15 participating teams playing in four pods across the province. The Cowichan Valley Capitals will play in Port Alberni, along with their Island rivals the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Grizzlies. The teams will be travelling from their hometowns to Port Alberni each game day.

The Caps will play their first game on Saturday, April 3, taking on the host Bulldogs at Weyerhauser Arena. The players finally skated together on Tuesday, following an 18-day quarantine period.

“It took a while to get everyone back on the ice,” head coach Brian Passmore acknowledged. “Obviously the first practice was pretty rusty, but the kids all had smiles on their faces.”

The roster currently consists of 14 forwards, nine defencemen and two goalies, who will be battling for ice time over the next five weeks.

“They’re all obviously looking to get as much game time as they can,” the coach said. “They all realize we can’t dress 25 players, so they’re jockeying for playing time. The first week, we’re playing six games in eight days, so with the travel, that will be draining.”

This is an important time for the 19- and 20-year-old players, in particular, as they need to impress scouts after losing most of the season to COVID. That includes the leadership group of alternate captains Jackson Alexeev, Kahlil Fontana, Jacob Brockman and Max Bulawka.

A more-experienced forward group will be backed up by a relatively raw defence corps, with solid goaltending expected from Lucas Pfeil and Jayden Shull. The younger players will be auditioning for spots on next year’s team.

“With our defence, they will have a lot to prove,” Passmore said. “All the players want this opportunity to prove they can get the job done.”

None of the 25 players have ever appeared in a regular-season game for the Caps, but seven of the forwards, two of the defencemen and both goalies played in exhibition contests last fall. Conversely, the Victoria Grizzlies lost just one player from their fall roster, who they replaced with someone already committed to a Div. 1 scholarship. None of the current Capitals have scholarship commitments.

“We’re hoping to win by committee,” Passmore said. “And not have individual star power.”