Fifteen-year-old Matthew Hutchinson made 51 saves in his first B.C. Hockey League start as the Cowichan Valley Capitals beat the Vernon Vipers 4-2 on Sunday afternoon for their first home win of the season.
The Caps called up Hutchinson, a Nanaimo product who just turned 15 on Oct. 7, from the U18 AAA North Island Silver Tips for the game, and he served as an inspiration for his teammates.
“He played phenomenally,” Caps head coach Brian Passmore said. “Defensively, in front of the net, the guys were blocking shots, doing what they could to help the kid out. It worked quite well.”
Hutchinson previously backstopped the Caps to their first win of the 2021 preseason with a 32-save outing against the Nanaimo Clippers, and they told him at the time that they’d be using him for the five regular-season games he can play as an affiliate. With one of their regular goalies, Evan May, sidelined with an injury, Sunday’s game offered the perfect opportunity.
“A 2 p.m. game on a Sunday against a strong team was a big test,” Passmore acknowledged. “But we lost our game on Friday and I thought a different look in net would help. Why not? He won in exhibition, and he did the same thing again.”
Nerves didn’t seem to be an issue for the youngster.
“He seemed pretty calm,” Passmore said. “He’s always got a smile on his face. He seemed to be enjoying the moment. He had a lot of support in the stands cheering him on.”
The Caps helped out their netminder by scoring first, and had a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes. Vernon came back to make it 3-2 in the third period, but the Caps managed to avoid a late-game collapse.
“One problem we’ve been facing is that we’ll give up a goal, then all of a sudden we give up three in two minutes,” Passmore noted. “We did a great job of not doing that.”
Captain Brett Fudger scored two goals, the first with a shot off the rush in the first period and the second a powerplay effort from in front of the net in the second. Massimo Sarantos Lombardi had the other second-period marker, and rookie defenceman Mason Croucher scored his first of the year when he joined the rush in the third. Team scoring leader David Jacobs added two assists.
Unfortunately, it was a costly victory for the Caps, who lost Fudger to a one-game suspension and Croucher to a three-game ban for actions against the Vipers. Adam Jeffery, who had two goals in each of the previous three contests, injured his Achilles tendon in the game and will be out for two or three months.
The Caps had a 3-1 lead over the visiting Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Friday night, but gave up four straight and ended up on the wrong side of a 7-5 final score. It was the second time this season the Caps have scored five or more goals against the Bulldogs and lost.
Jeffery scored twice against his former team, while Sarantos Lombardi, Arjun Bawa and Ian Kern scored their first goals of the season. Jeffery, Jacobs and Colin Campbell had two assists apiece, and Lombardi had one helper for a three-point night. Ben Montgomery made 36 saves as the Caps were outshot 42-28.
The Caps visited the Nanaimo Clippers on Wednesday for the first chapter of that rivalry, with the teams set to reconvene at the Cowichan Arena next Wednesday. Although almost none of this year’s players had played for the Caps in the past — only Fudger and Sam Schofield returned from last year’s team — Passmore has stressed the history of the Cowichan-Nanaimo rivalry.
“I’ve explained to them the importance of this and what it means to have good games against Nanaimo,” he said. “This is a team to get up for. If we play the way we did [on Sunday], we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
The Caps will also visit the Victoria Grizzlies this Friday and host Duncan’s own Luciano Wilson and the high-flying Penticton Vees on Saturday at 7 p.m.