With three consecutive games against the team they are chasing for an Island Division playoff spot, the Cowichan Valley Capitals had a huge opportunity last week.
Rather than making up ground against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, the Caps instead lost two of the three games, and ended up one point back of where they started.
The Caps started the week 10 points back of the Bulldogs, but after a win, an overtime loss and a regulation loss, they wound up 11 points behind.
“We let it get away,” Cowichan head coach Brian Passmore admitted. “It’s unfortunate. It’s disappointing. We scored enough goals in the first two games to get four points. On Saturday, we couldn’t put pucks in the net.”
The series started well for Cowichan, who beat Alberni 6-2 at the Island Savings Centre last Wednesday.
Goalie Michael Corson, whose strong play since his arrival just a few weeks ago had garnered attention from around the B.C. Hockey League, made his first home start, and didn’t disappoint, stopping 31 of 33 shots in the win. Ty Pochipinski and Andrew McCann each scored twice, and Tate Coughlin registered three assists. Also cracking the scoresheet were Ethan Scardina, with a goal and a helper, Nicholas Wilson, with one goal, Marshall Skapski, with two assists, and Simon Chen, with one assist.
The Caps scored once in the first period, twice in the second and three times in the third, while the Bulldogs replied with one in the second and one in the third. Cowichan went 2-for-5 on the powerplay, while killing off all seven of Alberni’s man advantages.
“The guys played really hard and did what they needed to do,” Passmore said. “We got the lead and kept building on it.”
Duncan product Luc Wilson made his BCHL debut in the Wednesday game as he was called up from the junior B Nanaimo Buccaneers. The 16-year-old Wilson has 20 goals and 35 points in 34 games this season, tied for the team lead in goals and fifth in points for the league-leading club.
Coughlin scored twice and added three assists when the teams met again at Weyerhauser Arena on Friday, but the Caps ended up falling 7-6 in double overtime. The Bulldogs became the first BCHL team to solve Corson, who gave up all seven goals on 38 shots, while Chemainus’s John Hawthorne made 46 saves in the Alberni net.
The teams battled back and forth throughout the evening, with the lead changing hands several times. Pochipinski put the Caps ahead 6-5 at 13:10 of the third period, but the Bulldogs tied it up at 15:46 after a bad line change by Cowichan, then scored again with 36 seconds left in the second overtime session.
“That game never should have gone to overtime,” Passmore said. “We should have locked that game down and got two points.”
Pochipinski and captain Troy MacTavish each had a goal and an assist, Brendan Cherwalk and Azzaro Tinling also scored, and Skapski and McCann each had two helpers. The Caps were 1-for-2 on the powerplay, while the Bulldogs were 1-for-3.
Playing in front of by far their biggest home crowd of the season on Saturday, thanks to the hype created by Rogers Hometown Hockey, the Caps still had a chance to salvage the series. Trailing 1-0 going into the third period and 2-1 with two minutes left, they gave up a shorthanded goal and an empty-netter to fall 4-1.
Passmore acknowledged that his players may have been reacting to the pressure from the stands.
“I thought guys were trying to do too much, squeezing their sticks too much,” he said. “They definitely worked hard and played a good game.”
The late shorthanded goal especially hurt.
“That was quite a dagger in our comeback attempt,” Passmore commented.
Hugh Larkin scored Cowichan’s lone goal on a third-period powerplay. Corson stopped 24 of 27 shots, while Hawthorne allowed one goal on 30 shots.
Passmore noted that his special teams were successful most of the week, as the Caps went 3-for-7 on the powerplay over the first two games, and held Alberni to 1-for-16 over the three contests. Coughlin’s eight points, which earned him consideration for the BCHL Player of the Week award, were also a highlight.
“He was making plays off the rush, showing good poise,” Passmore said. “He did his job.”
In addition to sitting 11 points back of Alberni in the Island Division, the Caps are also six back of the Coquitlam Express for the second wildcard spot. They are well aware of where they stand.
“Our players know the importance,” Passmore said. “They were extremely disappointed after Saturday night. They wanted to please the fans. They played a good game, but it slipped away from us at the end.”
The Caps play nine of their last 12 games at home, where they have been much better than on the road (.450 vs .115).
“They believe in each other and are sticking together,” Passmore said. “They know we need to go on a run here, put five or six games together with wins. They know we’ve got some good teams coming in. There’s no room for error. Errors have cost us. They did this weekend.”
They have just one game this weekend, as they host the league-leading Penticton Vees on Saturday at 7 p.m.