With Saturday’s win, the Creston Valley Thunder Cats clinched second place in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Eddie Mountain Division.
But they won’t be coasting through the last few games of the season: tomorrow’s game against the Nelson Leafs and back-to-back away-home games against the Columbia Valley Rockies.
“We’re not going anywhere up or down,” said head coach Jeff Dubois. “At the same time, Columbia Valley and Fernie are in a battle for third place. We’ve got to respect the fact that there are other teams working hard for playoff positions.”
Dubois will be resting a few key players on the weekend, keeping them primed for next week’s playoffs, but will be looking to continue the Thunder Cats’ six-game winning streak.
“We’re taking some real pride in how we’re playing,” said Dubois. “We want to be a team that finishes the season going into the playoffs on the right note.”
Their weekend games started with a 6-3 win over the visiting Golden Rockets on Friday.
“Golden played us tight in the first period,” said Dubois. “In the second, it felt like we took over a little bit.”
A goal by Logan Styler tied the game 1-1 late in the first period, with Grant Iles (power play) and Carson Cartwright adding two more in the second before Golden’s second goal. In the third period, Logan Wullum (shorthanded) and Iles scored 30 seconds apart, followed by a Rockets goal. Iles scored again on an empty net with 17 seconds remaining.
The game marked Iles’ first hat trick since joining the Thunder Cats in a December trade, and it was also the junior hockey debut for two affiliate players, Creston’s Alex Blackmore and Ryan MacDonald from the BC Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice major midget team based in Nelson.
Friday was also the return of Lien Miller-Jeannotte, who was on the injured list for six weeks. He, Styler and Iles earned a total of 11 points in that game.
“Those guys were in on three goals, and Grant and Logan were also invovled in the power-play goal,” said Dubois. “It was a big night for them offensively.”
Saturday’s road trip to Grand Forks also resulted in a 6-3 win for Creston, but the game was much different, with the Border Bruins taking a 2-0 lead by the early second period. Creston’s response was a power-play goal by Jackson Bruce-Fuoco five minutes into the period. Grand Forks took 11 minutes to take a 3-1 lead with a shorthanded goal — and then the Thunder Cats scored five more power-play goals.
Carson Cartwright earned a hat trick, scoring twice late in the second period and halfway through the third, followed by two goals from Styler in the last 3:39.
“It was really a night where our top players were really dangerous and got the job done to get us the win,” said Dubois.
He was pleased to see Bruce-Fuoco, the team’s captain, showing leadership skills in that game, both by scoring and standing up to a Border Bruin picking a fight.
“He’s a guy who has that spark in dressing room, a guy who answers the bell physically,” said Dubois. “That’s what you want form your captain. He finds a way to bring value every time he’s on the ice.”