A former B.C. Hockey League forward now living in Chemainus is the major player of an ownership group hoping to restore the Cowichan Valley Capitals’ franchise to some of its past glory.
John Dewar, 36, who has been in the Cowichan Valley since 2011 and moved to Chemainus nearly three years ago, heads the Island Capitals Sports & Entertainment group and serves as the team’s governor.
The sale to the group by Ray Zhang, who owned the team for seven years, was officially approved by the BCHL’s board of governors last month.
Dewar, managing partner of Maxxam Insurance, and his group that includes former NHL player Clayton Stoner actually took over management of the team last November before making the pitch for ownership.
With Zhang being in China, “it was a lot more complicated transaction than normal,” Dewar conceded.
“It’s way more than I ever anticipated, but I enjoy it. I guess it’s an expensive hobby. Ultimately, you’re doing it because you want to see the kids get to the next level.”
Dewar’s own hockey path toward potentially reaching the highest levels in the game took some unusual twists, mainly because he was born and grew up in the United Kingdom in Swindon, 80 miles west of London.
Since that’s not exactly a hockey hotbed, Dewar moved to the United States in 2000 to play in the Peewee World Championships in Quebec. He got recruited from there to play for the Michigan Ice Dogs at the bantam level and then on to the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton.
Dewar’s dad actually owned a pro team in the U.K., but Dewar knew he’d need to move to North America to go anywhere in hockey.
He eventually made the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters as a 16-year-old and also had brief stints in the league with the Penticton Vees, Prince George Spruce Kings and the Williams Lake Timberwolves where he compiled 23 goals and 48 assists for 71 points in his final year of junior eligibility.
But instead of pursuing hockey any further after that, he got into the insurance business as a 20-year-old following connections he made with the Vees’ owner while playing in Penticton.
“I look back now and wish I’d kept playing,” said Dewar.
But the insurance business has been good to him and he’s happy to be involved in hockey again as an owner.
“When I first stopped playing hockey, I still followed the BCHL,” he indicated.
After that, Dewar got busy and “I didn’t watch junior hockey for years,” he added.
But Dewar obviously watches it very closely again now with his direct involvement.
He remembers coming into the Cowichan Community Centre as a visiting player in the mid-2000s with 1,500-1,800 fans in the building.
“It was an extremely hard arena to play in,” Dewar pointed out.
The owners want it to be that way again and are confident they’re moving in the right direction with veteran coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp at the helm.
“I talk to Mike on a daily basis and I try to get to all the games,” said Dewar.
“We feel we can put the pieces in place to make it a great franchise like it once was.”
As a former player, he notices some significant differences in the league.
“The league itself I would say it’s become a lot more high-leveled and structured,” he said. “Obviously, that comes with expense as well.
“You know you’re never going to get rich with a junior hockey team. Our biggest thing is for community involvement to build a great program so the players can get to the next level.”
It’s always a battle for franchises that don’t have elaborate buildings like Penticton or Chilliwack to remain competitive in the recruitment process, but Dewar feels a solid program will speak for itself and make this a desirable place for elite players to come.
“In this kind of league, the Cowichan facility is a great facility for Junior A hockey,” he said.
“As long as we put the time, money and effort in to a great on-ice product, the players are going to come in over time.
“It is going to take time and we have to be realistic as well, but we feel we can turn it into a great franchise again.”