By Lanny Stewart
As is the case every year at this time, there’s renewed optimism and a sense of excitement in the air as another Manitoba Junior Hockey League season is upon us.
For the Virden Oil Capitals, it’s all about continuing that winning mentality, and that means, hopefully in their case, another strong regular season coupled with a lengthy playoff run. The Oil Caps, who are coming off their first ever championship final appearance in club history, will have an influx of youth this season as training camp approaches.
The club will return just a handful of forwards and defencemen, while Dalton Dosch, last year’s backup netminder, is expected to take over starting duties between the pipes. It’s a different makeup this upcoming season, but it’s an opportunity for some younger players to really make a name for themselves this year.
The following is an in-depth look at the team as it prepares for training camp, which gets underway on Friday at Tundra Oil and Gas Place.
Ben Dalke, 20, along with Kolten Kanaski, 19, will both play key roles with the Oil Caps up front. Both players stepped up their game this past postseason as Dalke finished tied for second in playoff scoring with 12 points, while Kanaski’s six assists was good for third on the squad in that category.
“I’m really excited to get camp started and get back into the swing of things,” Dalke said. “I have big expectations this year. With last year’s team having what it takes to be successful and forming a winning atmosphere, I learned a lot. I’m excited to join up with our great group of returning players to pass on the experience we gained from last year to the newcomers and keep a winning mentality alive here in Virden.”
Kanaski says it’s always exciting to come to camp and see familiar faces as well as the new players who will be vying for spots.
“The Oil Caps staff have done a tremendous job over the summer months at getting players to come to our little town and make our team as solid as can be,” he said. “But in the end, I’m excited to just get back on the ice and play the game I love.”
Ben Dalke (’98 born)
Last season stats: 18 G, 21 A, 39 P in 45 games
Kolten Kanaski (’99 born)
Last season stats: 17 G, 17 A, 34 P in 49 games
Hunter Cloutier (2000 born)
Last season stats: 6 G, 13 A, 19 P in 40 games
Jack Einarson (2000 born)
Last season stats: 5 G, 9 A, 14 P in 47 games
Josh Belcher (2000 born)
Last season stats: 6 G, 3 A, 9 P in 50 games
Brayden Pawluk (’99 born)
Last season stats: 2 G, 5 A, 7 P in 46 games
Forwards signed during offseason
Anaheim product Parker Brakebill highlights the Oil Caps’ offseason forward signings. The 19-year-old forward joins a group that includes Westman area players Brett Paddock (2000 born) and Tanner Andrew (2000 born).
Oil Caps management share their thoughts on all three players, beginning with Brakebill: “He’s a very versatile forward who can play up the middle or on the wing. The opportunity to get a connection into Anaheim and Southern California with a player of this ability was too good to pass up. He’s a great guy, his teammates and his coach always rave about him.”
Paddock: “He was the captain of the AAA Midget Wheat Kings last year and he led their group in more ways than one as the club advanced to the AAA midget final last season. An upstanding young man who will be a pillar for this team and in this community moving forward.”
Andrew: “Andrew is somebody we have the utmost respect for as he was put in a tough situation last year being sent to the AAA Midget Cougars in December. He handled it with a great attitude and only used the disappointment to better himself. He grew as a player last year with us and with the Cougars in his development both on and off the ice.”
Two other players who have signed deals are Dylan Halliday and Tristan Thompson and the club is looking forward to what they can bring to the table.
“It feels great to sign with the Caps. Ever since I was drafted here, it’s been a goal of mine to sign here and be a part of the team,” Halliday said.
“I’m super excited to be coming to Virden and be a part of a top-end organization. It’s a great opportunity for me and I can’t wait to get things started,” Thompson added.
Veteran blueliner Tristen Cross, 20, along with Jayden Wojchiechowski, 19, will be counted on to help lead the back end this season. Cross led all defenceman on the team in scoring a year ago, finishing with 38 points in 57 games.
“Once August comes around, it’s basically like a countdown until hockey starts,” Cross said. “I’m starting to look forward to this season more and more and my expectations for this season are the same as it is every other year in that we’ll have a great team. There’s a lot of young guys coming up this year that are really good players.”
Meanwhile, two other blueliners who are eligible to return, Garrett Sambrook and Marco Creta, will both be at WHL camps and at this point, management is unsure if they’ll be back this season.
Tristen Cross (98 born)
Last season stats: 9 G, 29 A, 38 P in 57 games
Jayden Wojciechowski (99 born)
Last season stats: 5 G, 10 A, 15 P in 49 games
Eligible to return (Attending WHL camps)
Garrett Sambrook (2000 born)
Last season stats: 0 G, 8 A, 8 P in 21 games
Last season stats: 2 G, 8 A, 10 P in 18 games
Blueliners signed/acquired during offseason
Sean Gula (2000 born), Austin Johnston (’99 born) and Thomas Brassard (2000 born) were signed in the offseason, while 20-year-old Brock Shwaluk was picked up via trade. Oil Caps management share their thoughts on the four players, beginning with Shwaluk: “Brock will bring depth and experience to our defensive core and provide leadership on and off the ice. Brock adds some grit and moves reasonably well.”
Gula: “Sean Gula is a good puck moving defenseman, and we look forward to having him on the team. He’s going to be an offensive spark on the back end.”
Austin Johnston: “Austin is a local guy from Moosomin and obviously a guy that didn’t play last year and we know that there’s some trepidations to that possibly, but he’s firmly committed to this season. We see him as a steady and solid defenseman, a stay at home guy and he was highly sought after so that’s one reason why we hung on the opportunity that he may play again.”
Brassard: “Brassard is a good steady defenceman and I think that he’ll come into camp and be ready to go for the season and I know he’s excited to be out here and we’re excited to have him. Thomas is a very smart and astute player both on and off the ice.”
Vying for spots up front:
Jake Poole – First overall pick in the 2017 MJHL Bantam Draft (acquired via trade with Wayway)
Riley Zimmerman – Fifth round, 49th overall, 2017 MJHL Bantam Draft
Colin Cook – Fourth round, 35th overall, 2016 MJHL Bantam Draft
Blake Jacques – Sixth round, 63rd overall, 2016 MJHL Bantam Draft
Jesse Tkach – Sixth round, 64th overall, 2016 MJHL Bantam Draft
Vying for spots on the blueline:
Logan Rands – Eighth overall pick, 2016 MJHL Bantam Draft
Patrick Comeau – 19th overall pick, 2016 MJHL Bantam Draft
Last year’s backup goaltender Dalton Dosch (’99 born) is in line to take the No. 1 spot between the pipes, while rookie Riley Wallace (2000 born) is expected to be the backup at this point. Dosch went 14-5 last season with a .901 save percentage and a 3.09 GAA.
“Our expectations are set high,” Dosch said. “With the season just around the corner, I couldn’t be anymore excited to get back into it.”
Getting the opportunity to be the starter in net is an honour, Dosch says.
“I feel that the coaching staff and my teammates have a great amount of trust in me and I’m looking forward to a great season all together.”
Upcoming camp an opportunity for anyone to ‘step up’
This camp preview was just a glimpse into what the team could look like after all is said and done, however there could be others who step up and make the club.
“We have a couple free agents coming in out of the province and we could have additional kids in our own system who could show they’ve made some big strides this summer,” Oil Caps management said. “We’re looking forward to getting all these players on the ice and getting camp underway.”
The 2018 Comfort Inn Fall Training Camp is slated to begin this Friday at Tundra Oil and Gas Place.