The Cowichan Valley Capitals and Coquitlam Express battle for possession on the face-off. (October 27th, 2018)

Story & Photos — Alex Rodgerson/ISN

The Cowichan Valley Capitals were unable to capitalize on a strong first period in Coquitlam on Saturday night, falling to the Coquitlam Express by a final of 5-2. After a first period that saw the last-place Capitals ahead by a 2-1 score over the second-place overall Express, penalty trouble would plague Cowichan for the duration of the night and end up being the difference. Coquitlam would score three goals in fifty seconds in the second period, including two on the powerplay, and now see their record improve to 13-5-1 while the Capitals fall to 4-12-1 on the year.

Just two nights removed from an 8-1 loss at the hands of the Wenatchee Wild the Capitals would come out with a determined effort to start the first period, moving their feet and creating an aggressive forecheck. Cowichan’s early hard work would be rewarded with the games first powerplay, when the Capitals would strike. After Coquitlam would fail to clear the zone, Capitals’ forward and California native Paul Selleck would make a beautiful pass across the slot for Lucas Vanroboys who would snap home a hard wrister blocker-side on Express goalie Clay Stevenson.

The Capitals’ defence would play an aggressive game from the blue-line in the first, anticipating Coquitlam’s breakout attempts and keeping their potent offence in check early on. With the Express only able to muster four shots through the games opening twelve minutes, Cowichan would strike again mid-way through the frame. After Capitals’ rookie Adam Conquest would come back defensively and strip his man of the puck, Conquest would then fire the puck up ice with Paul Selleck driving hard to the net. Selleck would keep his stick on the ice and re-direct the puck passed Stevenson for a 2-0 Cowichan lead, with Stevenson giving up two goals on his first five shots faced.

The Express would head to the powerplay late in the frame but Cowichan would play a dedicated defensive game, shutting down lanes and blocking shots well. The Express would break through late in the period after an awkward turnover would see several Captials’ players headed for a line change, leaving Express leading-scorer Josh Wildauer alone in front to tap in his 8th of the season. The period would come to an end with the Capitals ahead over the Express by a score of 2-1 despite a late push from Coquitlam who would end the period ahead in shots 10-6.

The second would see the Capitals continue to match the pace of the second place Coquitlam Express early on, winning the majority of the board battles before a bizarre five minute major to Cowichan defenceman David Melaragni would completely change the game. On a play that didn’t even look like a penalty, Melaragni would watch the Express score twice with the man advantage to go ahead 3-2 just five minutes into the frame. Still reeling, the Capitals would surrender a goal under thirty seconds later to extend the Express lead to 4-2.

While Cowichan would continue to play strong down low, a skilled Express team would begin to expose the Capitals lack of point coverage. Another soft call would put the Capitals down a skater just minutes later, keeping Cowichan killing-penalties rather than looking to create offence. The Express would stretch their lead in shots to 18-11 just passed the half-way mark of the second period. Late in the period, after being roughed up by a pair of Capitals on his shift, Coquitlam’s Chase Danol would get away with a blatant retaliatory trip while laying on the ice. This would add to the case of spotty officiating in this game, after some seriously questionable calls early in the frame that went against Cowichan and led to two PP goals against. The Capitals would head back to the penalty kill late in the frame, but manage to retreat to the dressing room only down 4-2 and closing the shot differential to 21-17.

The third period would begin the same way as the second, with Cowichan taking another very soft penalty early. Paul Selleck would be sent to the box for slashing, a penalty which would be assessed by the referee standing all the way at centre ice. The Capitals would kill off the penalty, but the Express would extend their lead to 5-2 just moments later after a goal from Danny Pearson. Back at even strength the Capitals would get back on offense, with Cole Broadhurst coming within inches of making it a two goal game yet again.

Cowichan would get a powerplay of their own with 4:50 left in the game, but some solid netminding by Clay Stevenson would thwart any hopes of a comeback. One of the Capitals top skaters on this night Paul Selleck would get a clear cut breakaway late in the game but a marvelous pad stop from Stevenson would deny the ’98 born forward of his second of the night. The Coquitlam Express would then hang on to defeat Cowichan Valley by a final of 5-2.

While it would take the Express about twenty five minutes to find their legs on Saturday night, Coquitlam would score four unanswered goals from the second period on which led them to victory. Despite the 5-2 score, this game was a lot closer than it may appear in the box score. At 5-on-5 the Capitals were able to match the pace of the league’s second ranked club for the majority of the contest, while some undisciplined play and questionable officiating would hurt the team on this night. For the Capitals they were just a step too slow on the transition, not engaging their defence fast enough against an Express team that plays as a five man unit.

After the game I had a chance to speak with Capitals’ rookie Adam Conquest, a Michigan-born forward who is committed to Bowling Green University (NCAA) for next season. Conquest is a skilled forward with good speed and vision, but his defensive awareness at this stage of his career could be his most impressive attribute. The 2000-born forward gave his thoughts regarding another tough loss for the Capitals.

“I think we started out good, come the second period we didn’t have the same tempo” said Conquest. “We got it going again in the third period, but then they got that one and it kind of took the wind out of our sails.”

Before joining the Capitals this summer Adam Conquest played three seasons of high school hockey for Brighton High, where last season he scored twenty-one goals in twenty-one games before moving onto the USHL to finish the year. In his debut season in the BCHL, Conquest has eight points in twelve games. I then asked him what the adjustment from high school to the BCHL has been like.

“I played high school last year so the pace was a a lot slower,” said Conquest. “At first it was a little difficult getting adjusted, but as the games go on I’m getting used to it. So far so good.”

With an active stick and superb back-checking, Conquest is able to get up and down the ice quickly to make plays as well as break them up. Conquest had two clean takeaways in the first period alone, and tallied an assist on Cowichan’s second goal of the game. Conquest then gave his thoughts on his 200-foot game.

“I always try to work on my speed, to be able to beat guys up and down the ice.” said Conquest. “I think I can do a lot better, but I feel I’m doing well so far.”

With Saturday night’s defeat the Capitals would be unable to make up any ground in the standings, with things not getting any easier for Cowichan as they face the league’s top team the Chilliwack Chiefs on Sunday. Despite a tough start to the season the Capitals showed on Saturday night that when they’re able to match the pace of their opposition, they have a very good chance to win.

“We can really improve on playing sixty-minute games. We play well for periods but we need to keep the pedal to the metal.” said Conquest. “We just need to work hard and we’ll start winning games.”