Seventeen games into the season, Creston Valley Thunder Cats and Kimberley Dynamiters are locked in a neck and neck battle for first place in the KIJHL’s Eddie Mountain Division.
Kimberley won a close 4-3 home ice decision over the Thunder Cats on Friday, gaining temporary possession of first place. Creston rebounded with a 7-2 win over the Golden Rockets on Saturday, while the Dynamiters dropped their third game of the year, absorbing a 3-1 loss to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
“I thought we did our very best to hand the game over to them in the first period, but after that we showed some signs of life and worked our way back into it,” coach Jeff Dubois said on Monday. “The pushback in the second and third periods doesn’t excuse the lack of focus and effort early in the game, but at least it shows we were able to find a pulse and get back to doing some positive things.”
Creston opened the scoring in Kimberley on Friday, with Bryce Sturm notching the game’s first goal on an assist from Grant Iles. But the home team roared back with three straight markers by Devon Langelaar, Chase Miller and James Farmer.
A power goal by Franco Colapaolo to open the second period gave Kimberley a 4-1 lead, one that the Thunder Cats would prove unable to overcome. Ronnie Wilkie (Liam Plunkett) and an unassisted goal by Plunkett helped make the game close by the end of the period, but neither team managed a goal in the final frame.
Brock Lefebvre stopped 20 of 24 shots for the Thunder Cats, who managed 31 shots on goal against Cody Campbell.
Dubois said his players will have to be better prepared to keep the early season momentum going as the season progresses.
“We need to be more prepared and focused coming into games against tough opponents. So far we haven’t shown an ability to do that, and it needs to change. It’s great that we can do our job against the teams we should beat, but we’re going to hit a point later in the season where we’re no longer playing those teams. Kimberley probably felt great about their first period, and they should, but the reality is that we set it up on a platter for them. You can’t expect to compete when you’re spotting a good team a two or three-goal lead before you show up to play.”
He gave special mention to one player.
“Liam Plunkett was a big part of us waking up a bit in the second period and making it a game. He made a couple of high-skill plays that led to our second and third goals.”
The Thunder Cats moved on to Golden on Saturday for a match against the Rockets, who occupy the division basement.
“As a coaching staff we wanted to see some bounce-back from Friday and we got that,” Dubois said.
Back to their old ways, Creston jumped to a 2-0 first period lead on goals by Thomas Cankovic (Brodie Smith and Tyler Severson) and Iles.
An unassisted effort by Julian Benner at the 1:50 mark of the second period ultimately proved to be the game winner. Ethan Bock put Golden on the scoreboard, but Benner’s second goal (Sturm and Sebastian Kilcommons) gave the Cats a 4-1 lead after two periods were in the books.
Ronnie Wilkie scored twice in the third period, one with assists from McConnell Kimmett and Kilcommons and the other unassisted. Kimmet scored Creston’s seventh goal from Tyler Severson. Andrew Dunn scored the games final goal for Golden on the power play with less than four minutes to play.
The undefeated Patrick Osterman stopped all 26 shots he faced for Creston. Cody Grobowsky went the distance for Golden, turning aside only 16 of 23 Thunder Cats’ shots.
“Julian Benner and Ronnie Wilkie have both been creating a lot of chances offensively so it was nice to see them both get rewarded with two-goal games.”
The Thunder Cats get a rematch tonight (Thursday) when the Dynamiters visit the John Bucyk Arena. Creston then hits the road for Games against the Spokane Braves on Sunday and Grand Forks Border Bruins on Saturday.