The Northern Capitals are back!
Prince George’s Under-18 Female AAA hockey team is set to get back into game-play action this week, taking on the Fraser Valley Rush in a trio of exhibition matches.
However, the club will be playing in Williams Lake to not only meet their opponents halfway, but also because of its looser COVID-19 return-to-play restrictions in public arenas.
As of this publication (Oct. 12), via Interior Health, the city has no active outbreaks of the virus and no schools within its district have potentially been exposed, making it the ideal hockey destination for the team that encompasses the northern interior region.
“The City of Williams Lake’s rules are quite a bit different than what we got going on here in Prince George,” explains Head Coach Mario Desjardins in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters, returning for his fifth season in eight years with the Caps.
“We’re allowed two full teams of 20 players, the coaching staff and we are allowed to use the dressing rooms there too, 10 per side. The rules were a little bit more in our favour to host games and I think they’re allowing 16 parents to watch and we don’t have that opportunity to host in Prince George yet. It kind of worked out for the Rush too in allowing them to kind of meet halfway.”
The Caps are all too familiar with the Rush as that was the last team they faced in a competitive setting before BC Hockey playoffs were cancelled by COVID-19.
Despite going 1-2 that final 2019-20 regular-season weekend against Fraser Valley, Desjardins says he feels his team was on the cusp of something special.
“I really believed that we were peaking at the right time,” he explained as the Capitals finished the year in third with an 18-12-2 record.
“I still felt that we were playing some of our best hockey at the time, and then to have it shut down, it was pretty disappointing for sure. It is what it is and if we were alone in that situation, it would’ve been terrible. But we move on, go with the flow, things are starting to shape up and we’re just looking forward to the games ahead.”
Much like their five other Cariboo Hockey counter-parts, the Northern Capitals have been subject to centering training camp around individual skill development as part of the COVID-19 return-to-play plan.
This has included both on- and off-ice sessions, to which Desjardins believes the girls have adapted to quickly physically, while also keeping the mental game at bay.
“We’re not the only team that’s facing that kind of challenge. Keeping the team focused and working on developing their own personal skills can sometimes be challenges since we don’t have any [meaningful] games coming up [...] everyone wants to play games and that’s why we play the game to start with.”
Brooklyn Hutchings & Hailey Armstrong tied at the top of the rookie race with 18 points each ✅ Hutchings had the more goals (8), while Armstrong, the youngest Cap at age 14, provided more helpers (12) | #CityOfPG pic.twitter.com/dO3S6hO3JN— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) March 2, 2020
He says the Williams Lake contests are going to be very important for his new squad after losing several players to hockey academies due to the uncertainty of the virus and the ability to play games up north.
With 10 returning players from last year’s campaign, Desjardins is hoping they can help the seven rookies transition smoothly.
“I feel like the biggest thing they’re going to notice is probably the time and space they used to have at a different level and that’s a little different at our level. They’re going to have to make that adjustment and that’s why it’s important to get them into games right away. They look great in practice, we’re really happy with the new girls that came in and the team has bonded since we made our line-up. It’ll give us the opportunities to develop and grow as a team as we move hopefully into January when the season gets started.”
The Northern Capitals’ roster going into the exhibition games on Oct. 17 and 18 is as follows (in alphabetical order):
- Karsyn Niven
- Tessa Sturgeon (Returning)
- Pyper Alexander (Returning)
- Hailey Armstrong (Returning)
- Maria Ayre (Returning)
- Ella Boon (Returning)
- Jessa Brewer
- Cricket Colebank
- Lindsey Goncalves
- Keagan Goulet (Returning)
- Brooklyn Hutchings (Returning)
- Brette Kerley (Returning)
- Rachel Loewen
- Nancy Moore (Returning)
- Kiera Mulder (Returning)
- Keira Vermeulen
- Camryn Ward
Puck-drop is slated for 7 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday.
The Capitals’ goal is to play a minimum of 12 games prior to the start of the 2020-21 BC Hockey season, which, according to Desjardins, could be as early as January.
The girls are also set to play a ‘home-and-home’ series later this month against their geographical rivals, the Thompson-Okanagan Lakers, one in Vernon and the other in Williams Lake.