It took two years after moving from Winnipeg for the Virden Oil Capitals to make the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoffs, and general manager/head coach Troy Leslie can’t wait to see what that experience will be like.
The Oil Capitals nearly doubled their win total from last season — going from 18 to 32 — to finish second in the Sher-Wood Division with a 32-24-4 mark this season. That earned them home-ice advantage for their best-of-seven division semifinal against the Swan Valley Stampeders. The series opens in Virden on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Leslie hopes to see the same passionate fans come out that he saw in the regular season.
“It’s a great thing for our fans who, in our inaugural season, didn’t get to experience the playoffs,” he said. “We’re happy for the fans of Virden and we’ve got six 20-year-olds in our lineup who gel, obviously have some playoff experience and they’re going to help us tremendously. We just want to make it as great of an experience for their final playoff experience as possible.”
While there’s a lot of excitement in the air for the Oil Capitals going to the playoffs, they aren’t going in with a lot of momentum. Virden lost its final six regular season games, which included a 5-4 defeat in a shootout to the Stampeders in Swan River.
Leslie, however, isn’t too concerned with the way his squad closed out the season. He had seven players out with injuries during that stretch — including forwards Devan Schram, Lucas Oliver, Curtis Oliver and Mack Hardy as well as defenceman Curtis Houlden — and sat many of his starters to rest them for the playoffs.
Leslie hopes to have some of his players back for the playoffs.
“We had a lot of (affiliate players) up during those games and they did a pretty good job for us,” he said. “If we can get guys back and get healthy then we should be OK.”
The playoffs should be extra exciting for defenceman Wyatt Kalynuk, who will make his post-season debut in his hometown with his hometown team. Jake Dudar is also coming on strong as he was named the league’s rookie of the month for February.
With players getting healthy and based on the way the team practised on Thursday, Leslie feels confident heading into the series.
“They’re excited,” he said. “I thought we had a good, spirited practice. Guys are feeling good about things. I think basically for the last couple weeks they’ve been sitting around waiting for the playoffs to begin and they’re finally here.”
The Dauphin Kings will host either the OCN Blizzard or the Waywayseecappo Wolverines in the other Sher-Wood Division semifinal. Those teams will play the third and deciding game of their first-round playoff series tonight in The Pas.