It was not a loss that ended the Virden Oil Capitals’ postseason run but rather a pandemic.
On March 12, game four of the Oil Caps’ first round series against the Winkler Flyers was postponed. The next day the Canadian Junior Hockey League and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League announced that due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, the organizations were ending the 2019-2020 season.
“As a team, we were quite disappointed with the decision but found it was necessary,” Virden captain Kolten Kanaski said. “With that being said, we believed that we had a really good chance on moving forward to the next round and we’re excited for what was going to unfold.”
Oil Capitals head coach and general manager Tyson Ramsey said the league was “very efficient and thorough in communicating with individual clubs on all matters relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Tuesday before Friday’s cancellation announcement the Oil Caps had taken a 2-1 series lead thanks to a big 7-1 road win. Virden had won game one, 2-1, in double overtime and fell 6-3 in game two.
“I thought our group was just coming into its own in the series,” Ramsey said. “Obviously, a tough outcome in game two, but I thought in game three we were very good in all areas. Our guys were certainly excited for game four at home.”
In what turned out to be their final game of the season, the Oil Caps scored three first period goals to grab a 3-0 lead. They outscored the hosts, 3-1, in the second and added one in the third. Virden goalie Ethan Peterson stopped all but one of the 29 shots he faced.
Seven different Oil Caps scored: Jack Einarson, Hunter Cloutier, Josh Belcher, Jayden Wojciechowski, Drayson Collyer, Hunter Andrew and Sam Brunton. Andrew, a hometown product, and defenceman Darren Gisti each had three points on the night. The Oil Caps’ offensive onslaught forced Winkler to use both goaltenders. Dorrin Luding made 10 saves on 13 shots, while Dylan Meilun made 14 saves on 18 shots.
“Our success came from sticking to our game plan of being a fast and hard-hitting team,” Gisti said. “We were really solid in our defensive zone and it rewarded us with finding the back of the net and figuring out their goalies.”
In the regular season, Virden compiled a 32-23-3-2 record to finish sixth in the MJHL standings. Hunter Cloutier and Kanaski each posted 65 points and 29 goals to lead the team in scoring. It was Ramsey’s first season as the team’s head coach – only the second head coach since the 2012 move to Virden.
“I think this group can be remembered for its resiliency,” Ramsey said. “We certainly faced numerous challenges throughout the year and I thought we met those head on as a group and it made us stronger.
“Also, our explosiveness offensively was something that was pretty neat to watch when we our confidence was high, and we were working as a group. Finally, I think our defence corps took some strides as a group and developed into a trusted and hard-working group.”
The cancellation of the remainder of the postseason brought to an end the junior careers of the five Oil Caps who were in their 20-year-old seasons: Gisti, Jaxon Heeney, Kanaski, Peterson and Wojciechowski. Kanaski spent four years with the club, while Wojciechowski was here for three. Gisti, Heeney and Peterson all joined the Oil Caps during this season.
“I’ll remember everything about Virden,” Kanaski said. “The community, the fans, my billets and newfound friends will have a special place in my heart for the rest of my life. I am very sad to be leaving and would like to thank everyone for following me along during my junior hockey career.”