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Rebuilding Cowichan Valley Capitals look to brighter future

Grizzlies host Cowichan Valley on Friday night
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The new-look Cowichan Valley Capitals have yet to get on track at The Stick this season. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

Clayton Stoner came out of Port McNeill to play defence in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks and now hopes to return the Cowichan Valley Capitals to glory as co-owner of the B.C. Hockey League ­franchise that has fallen on hard times of late.

Stoner is part of the five-person Island Capitals Sports and Entertainment Group, headed by John Dewar, that bought the Capitals in September from seven-season former owner Ray Zhang.

The Capitals are off to a rough start at 1-9-1 as they prepare for a two-game set against the Victoria Grizzlies (9-3) tonight at The Q Centre and ­Saturday in Duncan.

“It’s not the start we wanted. But things don’t happen overnight. We are in this for the long haul,” said Dewar, managing partner of Maxxam Insurance, and a centre who played in the BCHL for the Williams Lake Timberwolves, Prince George Spruce Kings, Trail Smoke ­Eaters, Quesnel Millionaires and Penticton Vees from 2004-05 to 2006-07.

While Stoner took the well-traversed Canadian route in hockey, Dewar was far off the beaten track and is from Swindon, England. Yet he swam against the soccer, rugby and cricket tide to become obsessed with hockey and represented Great Britain in the 2005 U-18 world championship. It didn’t hurt that his dad Bob, who now lives in Nanaimo, owned the pro Swindon Ice Lords (now Wildcats) and worked in the computer game industry for EA Sports and specialized in hockey.

“I remember when I was in the BCHL, Cowichan was a great place to come and play because the arena was packed and it was a hard rink to play in,” said John Dewar, of the Big Stick in ­Duncan.

“The last few years I’ve gone to games and there are 300 to 500 people there. We want to build strong roots in the community again and a foundation to make this a great training ground to get players to the top levels.”

Dewar’s organization to emulate isn’t the Grizzlies or Nanaimo Clippers but the defending BCHL Coastal Division-champion Alberni Valley Bulldogs.

“The Bulldogs are in a remote area yet every year they are a powerhouse,” said Dewar, 36, who came to the Island in 2011 in the insurance business. “More than Victoria or ­Nanaimo, the Alberni Valley is a lot more similar to us as a model organization we want to become like.”

Key to that will be Stoner.

“Clayton has played at the highest level and has a wealth of experience that will help us in recruiting and also with on-ice development,” said Dewar.

There is a foundation to build on with seven Capitals players committed to NCAA Div. 1 teams, including Brady Yakesh to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, Jonathan Lanza and Ronan O’Donnell both to Yale, Ethan DeKay to Michigan Tech, Lars Petter Eckholm to New Hampshire, Luke Lavery to Providence and Michael Valdez to Colorado College.

“You don’t buy a junior hockey team to get rich,” said Dewar.

“You do it to develop young athletes to give them a chance at college hockey or the pros.”

At the Caps helm as head coach and GM is veteran BCHL mentor Mike Vandekamp.

“The results have not been there but we’re working hard and learning,” he said.

“Almost everyone is new but we’ve been in almost every game with seven one-goal games. But this is a results-based business and we are desperate for points and this is a big weekend for us against Victoria.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com