Upset? What upset?
Statistically, yes. One of the greatest in B.C. Hockey League history, in terms of points differential between the two teams, as the 16th-seed Cowichan Valley Capitals, with the second-to-worst record in the regular season (17-35-6), stunned the Interior Division-champion Penticton Vees in the first round of the playoffs with a 4-2 opening-round series victory.
This is a Vees team that included 2016 Carolina Hurricanes third-round draft selection Jack LaFontaine in goal and projected second- or third-round 2019 NHL draft pick Massimo Rizzo as captain.
But the Capitals remained as cool as a Cowichan Bay clam against a Vees team that finished 39 points ahead in the regular season.
“We always believed in ourselves. So, we’re not as shocked as everybody else,” said Capitals GM and head coach Mike Vandekamp, whose team beat the Vees 3-1 in Game 6 on Monday night in Duncan to lock up the series.
“We remain humble and grounded.”
Vandekamp points out the Capitals lost 16 games this season by one goal and five more by two goals that included an empty-netter.
“Our record is not a reflection of the team we are,” said Vandekamp.
“So we felt that the playoffs were a refreshing new start for us at 0-0. The guys viewed it as a new start and got dialed in pretty quickly.”
Even when things were not looking good during the regular season, the Caps never felt like a defeated team.
“I told them if you don’t behave like losers, then you won’t be losers,” said Vandekamp, who came to Duncan this season, after seven years at the helm of the Nanaimo Clippers and 23 seasons in total in the BCHL, Alberta Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League.
Meanwhile, this is becoming a bit of a habit for the Vees. They were also upset in the first round of the playoffs in 2016 with a loaded team featuring NHL first-round draft picks Dante Fabbro and Tyson Jost, the latter already with the Colorado Avalanche.
“Penticton is a great team and played well in our series,” said Vandekamp.
But the Capitals played better.
Cowichan Valley advances to face the defending BCHL champion Wenatchee Wild in the second round, with the best-of-seven series beginning Friday and Saturday in Washington state.
“Wenatchee has such speed and is the defending league champion and is a very experienced playoff team,” added Vandekamp.
But this is a loose Caps team that feels it has nothing to lose.
“We’re having fun and enjoying the experience because there is no pressure on us,” said Vandekamp.
The Capitals finished so low in the Island Division, in fifth place, that they didn’t even figure into the divisional post-season seedings and so had to go the cross-over route in the playoffs against Interior teams.
The Island Division playoff final, between the top-seed Victoria Grizzlies and second-seed Powell River Kings, begins Friday night at The Q Centre.