You're a mean one, Mr. Rawlings
Kevin Rothbauer - Cowichan Valley Citizen
On a day when Cowichan Valley Capitals fans showed their Christmas spirit, it was Chris Rawlings's turn to play the Grinch.
Rawlings made the Nanaimo Clippers look more like the Whoville Whos last Saturday, matching his jersey number with an astonishing 37 saves to record his first shutout of the season in Cowichan's 2-0 victory. Kevin Walrod scored the Caps' first goal -- and the eventual game-winner -- prompting fans to shower the ice with nearly 800 toys for the team's annual Teddy Bear Toss.
"It was good to have it come tonight," Rawlings said of his first goose egg. "Especially against that team."
Rawlings joined the Caps at the beginning of this season after splitting his first two seasons between the Salmon Arm SilverBacks and Powell River Kings, so this season has been his introduction to the often fiery rivalry between Cowichan and Nanaimo.
"I knew a little bit about it, but I got to know it a lot better once we started playing," Rawlings said of the rivalry. "It blows me away how much they hate each other. Every game is like a playoff game."
Team defence has been the Caps' focus in recent games, and it has served the squad well. The Caps have won five games in a row and nine of their last 11, and have moved three points ahead of the Clippers in the standings. The team has allowed three goals or fewer in each of those nine wins.
"It all starts with them," said Rawlings. "All the shots were from the outside, and as a goalie, you can't ask for much more than that."
Head coach Scott Robinson extolled the virtues of the team-defence concept.
"If we give (Rawlings) a chance to see the puck, he's gonna stop it," said the coach.
Robinson disagreed with suggestions that Rawlings has been a hot goalie in recent weeks.
"I don't think he's been on a roll," said the coach. "He's been consistent. He just might be this good."
Knowing the Clippers would be out for blood, still smarting after the Capitals handed them a 6-1 thrashing in their own building on Dec. 3, the Caps got off to a strong start on Saturday, delivering an early message with three big hits in the first 90 seconds of Saturday's game. Walrod's goal came at the 7:46 mark, after he created a chance through his own aggressive play, then slipped the puck under the glove of Nanaimo netminder Mark Trousdell.
"We started very well," said Robinson. "We got the 1-0 lead, and (Rawlings) made it stand up. Nanaimo came back with everything they had, and we did a great job of limiting their scoring opportunities."
Chris Zaires scored into an empty net with 52 seconds left on the clock to ice the victory. Defenceman Spencer Fraipont assisted on both goals.
On Friday night, The Caps beat the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 3-2 in Port Alberni. The Bulldogs scored in the waning seconds of the first period and the first minute of the second period to take a 2-0 lead, but the Caps got a second-period marker from captain Zack Currie and third-period goals from Joey Massingham and Alex Gellert to dig out a win. Rawlings stopped 29 of 31 shots to get the win. Defenceman Matt Johnston recorded two assists for his first multi-point game in the BCHL.
Rawlings credited much of the Caps' recent turnaround to the four-game road trip the team took at the end of November.
"We did some team bonding stuff, which helped us a lot," he said. "It was huge for our team. We're a lot closer now; we're playing as a team. That was the turning point of our season, for the first half at least."
The Caps will be busy this week, playing host to the Prince George Spruce Kings at 7 p.m. on Thursday before repeating last weekend with a road game in Port Alberni on Friday, followed by a home date with Nanaimo at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.