By Derek Holtom
Making the playoffs is the goal of all sports teams. Mission accomplished for the Virden Oil Capitals, who have only missed the playoffs once since setting up shop in Virden back in 2012-13. As most MJHL fans will recall, the Oil Capitals came into the league when the Winnipeg Saints were sold to a group in Virden.
Since then renamed Virden Oil Capitals have been one of the steadier and most improved teams in the MJHL – highlighted by a run to the finals last year where they lost to the Steinbach Pistons.
But the 2018-19 edition of the Oil Capitals are well off their 40-win pace from a year ago, going 10-10-1-4 in their first 25 games this season. In fact, the Oil Capitals entered the second last weekend of November as part of a group of five teams holding down fourth through ninth place. Simple math will tell you one of those teams likely won’t be in the playoffs come March, though Virden head coach Troy Leslie isn’t planning on his squad being one of them.
Leslie says this year’s team is much different from last year’s squad, and the slower start to the year was not unexpected.
“I thought with a bigger group of younger guys, and some new faces in our lineup, that we did struggle a little bit off the start,” said Leslie. “But we did lose a lot of games in overtime, and at that time saw a lot of good things in our group.
“We knew it would take a little bit of time to mesh and gel, and I think we’ve been able to do that the past few weeks,” he added. “We’re also seeing some development in our younger guys.”
The Oil Capitals are also without the services of Justin Lee, last year’s rookie of the year. Lee is playing in the USHL this year as he transitions towards playing NCAA hockey next year at the University of Denver.
“We knew there was a good chance he would (go to the USHL),” says Leslie. “He had a very good year in our league last year, and knowing that he was able to commit to Denver and take part in the Winnipeg Jets evaluation camp, that there would be a good chance he would not be here this year.”
The Oil Capitals are leaning heavily on Kolten Kanaski so far this year. The Beausejour native has 27 points to lead the team in scoring. Ben Dalke, another returning player, has 20 points, but after that the Oil Capitals are leaning heavily on their youth to score – players such as Hunter Cloutier, Jack Einarson, and Josh Betcher.
“We knew those guys were going to take a bit of time to get acclimatized to having a larger role,” says Leslie. “Dalke and Kanaski, they have even more expanded roles and ice time this year, and have stepped out quite well and are playing in all sorts of situations.
“We also added Blake Sidoni (From the Trail Smoke Eaters from the BCHL), and he brings us some experience and has helped that line,” added Leslie, noting Sidoni put up 12 points in his first 11 games in the MJHL. “We’ve had good success since we added Blake to the lineup.”
And in goal, Dalton Dosch has played the majority of the minutes for Virden, putting up a .910 save percentage to go along with a 2.77 GAA.
“Again, I think it’s the same thing – Dalton needed a bit of time to adjust to the role of starting goaltender,” said Leslie. “And obviously with him being player of the week a couple of weeks ago, and getting us some wins, that he’s been solid for us. And we’re going to need him night in and night out.”