The Cowichan Valley Capitals remarkable playoff run came to an end on Sunday night, just short of six minutes into overtime of game six of their best-of-seven series against the Wenatchee Wild.
Wenatchee defenceman Chad Sasaki scored to give the Wild their fourth win of the series, sending his team to the Interior Division final.
Capitals head coach Mike Vandekamp had talked throughout the playoffs about how his players all believed in each other, and that sense of belief made the loss harder to take.
“I just told the boys that I think that it’s heartbreaking because we had the guts to put our heart into it,” Vandekamp said. “You’ve gotta take a pretty big risk in anything in life if you’re gonna put your heart into something and it might get broken.”
The Caps finished 16th out of 17 teams in the B.C. Hockey League regular season, but peaked in the postseason, beating the Penticton Vees in six games in the first round before giving the defending league champion Wild a serious challenge in the second round.
“We’ve got a lot of upset kids after this, and there was a time earlier in the year where we didn’t even know where we were as a team yet,” Vandekamp noted. “So to come that far and put your hearts out there that way, take the risk that it might not go your way in the end — you have to put it all out there, and I think our kids did that. We played against a really good team this series. They’re very good and they’re deep.”
Preston Brodziak scored the lone goal of the first period on Sunday. David Melaragni put the Caps ahead at 6:10 of the second, but the Wild answered back less than two minutes later, then took a 3-2 lead in the third. Jordan Robert tied the game for the Caps with 4:16 left to play in regulation.
Playoff hero Pierce Diamond made 30 saves on the night, including stopping a penalty shot with 29 seconds left in the second period. Wenatchee netminder Austin Park allowed three goals on 19 shots.
The Wild also won game five in overtime, edging the Caps 2-1 in Wenatchee on Friday night.
Cowichan defenceman Doug Scott scored with less than seven minutes to play in regulation and forced overtime, but the host Wild scored four minutes and 26 seconds into the extra session.
The Wild opened the scoring midway through the second period. Both Wenatchee goals came on the powerplay.
The Caps were outshot 30-18, but Diamond made 28 saves, including 11 in the first period, to keep things close.
“They’re the defending champions of our league for a reason,” Vandekamp said of the Wild after Sunday’s game. “And they still have a lot of players who are part of that and a coaching staff and a culture there that won the league championship last year.”
By finishing fifth in the Island Division, the Caps ended up in the Interior Division for the playoffs, taking on a pair of highly regarded teams and travelling long distances by bus, something their Island rivals didn’t have to deal with, and Vandekamp admitted that was taxing on the players.
“When you win the wildcard spot in this league, they give you a pretty tough road to try to get anywhere in the playoffs,” the coach said. “It would have continued to be difficult no matter what, from a travel standpoint and the grind of the whole thing, but that’s why next year we have to have a better regular season; we’ve got to put ourselves in a little better spot in the standings.”
The response by fans in the Cowichan Valley to his team’s playoff success did not go unnoticed by Vandekamp, who gave the Caps their first playoff series win in 10 years in his first year behind the bench. He hopes the support carries over to next fall.
“The way the rink was electrified, that’s pretty exciting stuff to see that many people get out there and support the club,” he said. “Hopefully they’re as excited about the team as we are.”