Ben Dalke likely has Sunday, Sept. 23 circled on the calendar at the home of his billet parents Cheryl and Murray Foster.
That’s when Dalke, in his fourth and final year, and the Virden Oil Capitals host their home opener for the new Manitoba Junior Hockey League season. The Oil Caps take on the Dauphin Kings on the 23rd – just a day after opening the season on the road against the same team.
“I am most looking forward to the fantastic atmosphere of the season opener and playing in front of the Virden fans again,” said Dalke, who has lived four years with the Fosters.
Last season the Oil Capitals had their best season since moving to Virden from Winnipeg in 2012. The squad made it all the way to the MJHL finals.
“The best part about last year’s playoff run was playing the most competitive and fast-paced games I’d ever been a part of,” Dalke said. “Those are my favourite games to play and our team was so good last year it really was an honour to go to battle with those guys night in and night out.”
If the Oil Capitals are successful this season, Dalke will likely play a key role.
“He’s our most tenured player. He is a guy coming off a very good playoffs,” Virden head coach Troy Leslie said.
“We are looking for him to roll that into the year. Obviously, he is going to provide leadership and he is a guy we are going to go to for some offence. We were real pleased with the playoff run our team had and Ben had a lot to do with that success.”
Last season, when Dalke missed more than a month with an injury, the 5-foot-9, 171-pound forward had 18 goals and 39 points in 45 games. In the postseason, Dalke lit the lamp eight times and recorded 12 points over 15 games.
“He’s got a very good shot and a very good release,” Leslie said. “He has a knack for scoring goals. … He is good at finding open ice to get shots from. Obviously, going into this year, being a 20-year-old and a four-year veteran in the league, we look forward to seeing him provide us with some scoring punch.”
As a rookie, Dalke scored an impressive 29 goals in 59 games. He has been an offensive producer for the team ever since but Leslie said the quiet, very well-respected leader has expanded his game during his time in Virden.
“He has become a really good 200-foot player and a guy who plays well on both ends of the rink.”
Dalke’s final season in Virden sees him reunited with Brock Shwaluk, who the team acquired in the off-season from Kindersley. Both 20-year-olds grew up in LaSalle.
“Brock and I have been best friends since we were four and have played hockey almost every year together up until our first year of junior. So to be able to play my final year with him will be very special and something I’m really looking forward to,” Dalke said.
The young man who hopes to play hockey and attend a post-secondary school next season said his time with the Oil Capitals has flown by.
“It feels like I was playing my first game as a rookie and blinked; now here I am as a 20-year-old in my last year,” Dalke said.
“The thing I’ve most enjoyed playing with the Oil Caps is my teammates and all the guys I have met in my years here. I’ve made a lot of friends for life.”