The Virden Oil Capitals marched to the MJHL finals last season, but it took a sensational second half of the year to do so. This year, they’ve hit the ground running and are making teams chase them.
Head Coach Tyson Ramsey says a lot of the early success stems from the lessons learned last year. “I think when you are fortunate enough to get to the finals, you learn some things about yourself as a group (like) how we need to play and what we need to do to be successful. We returned a large portion of the team last year, which is an advantage for us, but every team is different, too. What was successful for last year’s team may not work for this year. We’ve learned some lessons, and we’ll keep thinking about it as the season goes on.
While some things may have changed, Ramsey says the core of what the Virden Oil Capitals are all about, hasn’t. “Our work ethic, our preparation on the things we need to do to be successful are still there. This year’s group may be a little more skilled and it’s been a good start for this group, but we still have a way to go, that’s for sure.”
Heading into the weekend with a 10-4-1, the veteran coach says there is one area where he and his staff have been quite happy with. “Offensively, I think as a group we’ve done a pretty good job. I feel we’re a little more skilled than we were last year and that’s not taking anything away from that group last year, they did it by committee and got things done. This group now, especially with the recent additions coming from the Western Hockey League, our group up front is more skilled, and offensively, we’ve done a good job creating offense and spending more time in their zone. We’ve still got some work to do in own end of the rink, limiting time spent down there, but offensively, I think we’ve done a reasonable job to this point.”
Adding players once the season is in motion can be difficult, but Ramsey says the players that have come from the WHL have fit in very well as hockey players and as people. “When we looked at our team this year, we knew there were four guys who could be coming back to us. Certainly, to start the year we didn’t know if they would, so you need to build a team without them, but then you get Luke Robson back, then all of a sudden Braeden Lewis is back, then Ty Plaisier, now Grady Lane. Great players and obviously have helped us on the ice but what’s really cool to me is that three of them are from right here in Virden and the other is from Carberry. Local guys who know our program and know our organization. People around here know them. Not only are they good players but they are outstanding human beings, so they’ve just been a pleasure to work with.”
Two NCAA-Division 1 commitments have already been announced for a couple of Oil Caps’ and no one would be surprised if more are on the horizon. Having Virden be a launching pad and development ground for top talent, means something to Ramsey and the organization. “It’s pretty cool to see those two young guys make commitments so early. For both Luke (Mackenzie) and Bryce (Bryant), it’s so well deserved. Great, great young players who have worked hard here and have so much potential for the two of them, and it’s been so exciting to watch them. We’re really proud they are here, that they trust our program and that we’re going to help prepare them as best we can to succeed at the next level. It’s been cool for us as a group and organization, certainly a great recruiting tool that we’ve had the kids that we’ve had come through here, like Zach Whitecloud and Tyler Kirkup, guys who have come through here, it’s something we’re very proud of and it looks good for us when recruiting younger guys.”
The backbone of the Oil Caps this season has been goaltender Eric Reid. The local boy has a 9-3-1 record, 2.23 goals against average, and a .917 save percentage. Ramsey couldn’t be prouder of the way Reid has come into this year and the way he’s helped carry this team when they’ve needed him. “It’s been pretty awesome to watch Eric, not just this year but throughout his junior career. He’s come so far, he’s worked so hard on and off the ice to become the goaltender he has this year. For him to come here and work as hard as he has, taken the steps he has over the last couple of years, it’s been amazing. Owen LaRocque suffered an injury early on, so Eric’s had to carry the mail here and he’s a huge reason why we’ve had the success that we have had.”
While it’s been good to this point, Ramsey knows it’s still only the first half of the year. He and his club know lots can happen once the year changes and with that, he has a vision of how his team can keep growing. “I think we must have a day-by-day approach. We want to get better every day. Do something today better than you did yesterday. This group has done a good job of that to this point. We know you don’t win a championship in October. We know the strengths of our game and the weaknesses, and with that, we know we have to work harder to get better as a group. We do that, the results take care of themselves. Guys from last year know it’s a process, the regular season is long, and you need to make sure you’re doing your part every day to make sure you’re not falling behind or taking steps backwards. To this point, our group has worked extremely hard but with that, our expectations are a little higher this year. Our guys understand that every day is a new day and we need to do something better today then we did yesterday, and our group is off to a good start in that regard.”
The community of Virden has always loved their Oil Capitals and this year, Ramsey feels a different sort of buzz in the air and it’s exciting for him and the players. “It’s so awesome here. We always have so much support from the community here. The fan support, the season-ticket holders, and the business community are big supporters of ours. We’re fortunate in a community of 3,500 people, to have the support we have, it’s very much appreciated by us as an organization. It’s been pretty exciting, and we really haven’t played a whole pile of home games yet. Every time we do, people are excited to come support the team. Going to the finals last year and bringing a bunch of those players back plus having the local guys coming back, it’s pretty special. People here understand that, and the crowds have been great.”
For Ramsey, he is making sure to take time to appreciate the moments and soak in the good times as this group continues to build toward the back half of the year and beyond. “It’s a pile of fun every day here. We have such a great group of guys here, a great staff and it’s so much fun to come to the rink. This was the year we looked at a couple of years ago and thought that if a few pieces fall into place, we could have a good team and it’s shaped out that way. To go to the finals last year wasn’t something we maybe envisioned but as the second half of the year wore on, it was something that we felt we could accomplish. To bring those guys back plus some of the new guys and the guys coming back, it’s just been a lot of fun going to the rink every day and watching the guys put in work. The guys have been putting in their time, our guys are working extremely hard, and I think they understand what it takes to be successful and get to where we want to go. It’s pretty fun to be around these guys every day and I feel pretty fortunate to be around this group every day.”
With 10 of their next 16 games against MGEU West Division opponents, Ramsey says it’s easy to stay motivated and engaged. “You don’t have to look any farther, and we don’t want to look past this weekend. We have a very good Dauphin Kings team coming here on Saturday. We talk about getting better every day and doing the things we need to do but if we want to be on top or be the best, you have to beat the best. We’re certainly looking forward to those games. We played Dauphin once, but it was early in the year, so it will be interesting to see how we stack up against those guys. Like I said, we’ll take it one week at a time, one game at a time but those games are certainly a lot of fun. Our guys are looking forward to it.”