The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) has hit the ice for the 2022 Teck Cup playoffs as of Feb. 22.
The Creston Valley Thunder Cats joined the Neil Murdoch division to face the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the first round. This change came after the league made the decision to modify its initial plan for the Neil Murdoch wildcard spot after looking at the toll it would take on the Golden Rockets and Nitehawks to commute such a long way.
This change poses a new challenge for the Thunder Cats, with the potential for seven straight games against an opponent who they were unable to scout as intensively as a usual Eddie Mountain division rival. For comparison, in years with a normal schedule prior to the pandemic, seven regular-season games against a Neil Murdoch team could span up to three years.
“It’s a team we see less, so [without the pre-scouting] it’s going to allow us to probably focus more on our own game,” said Head Coach Bill Rotheisler.
Scouting aside, Rotheisler has an idea of what to expect from the new match-up, and it’s not something he’ll take lightly.
“The Eddie Mountain side is physical, good quality hockey, and it’s tough to play against,” he said.
“[The Beaver Valley Nitehawks are] a younger team. They’re skilled, they’re getting better at a higher pace, and you never know what they’re going to be like come playoffs. Terry [Jones] has been around for a long time, he knows how to coach, and if we come in and think that because it’s a different division and a different team that we’re not used to seeing that it’s going to be any easier, then we’re in trouble.”
Into day six of the playoffs on March 1, the Thunder Cats narrowly avoided elimination with a 5-3 win over the Nitehawks on home ice at the Johnny Bucyk Arena.
Forward Campbell McLean scored the winner in the third period to bring the score up to 4-3, with his second of three goals. He also added an assist for a four-point performance. Goalie Carlos Siso had an impressive 32 saves during the game.
After winning three of six against the Nitehawks, the deciding factor of who will continue in the playoffs will come down to the final game in Fruitvale on Thursday, March 3.