The Creston Valley Thunder Cats’ record in the first 15 games of the 2019-2020 season was 9-3-0-3 — easy to see it’s better than the 5-8-0-2 start from the year before.
Although the wins have been fewer and farther between than what was seen at the beginning of the season, all it takes is a quick peek under the covers to see that this Thunder Cats team is much more than what its record says it is.
With 12 rookies on the roster, there are only five teams with more first-year players than Creston and three of them are below the Cats in the standings. Of the 14 other teams with the same amount or less first-year players, the Cats are ahead of five of them. What this means is that even though teams are allegedly supposed to perform better with more veterans and less rookies, Creston is working on proving that wrong.
As a whole, 38 of the 116 goals this team has scored – 32.7 per cent – have come from rookies. Taking that stat even farther, first-year players have scored the game-winning goal in eight of the Cats’ 15 wins this season.
The recruiting job done by head coach Nick Redding might be going unnoticed because of the team’s current record, but the underlying numbers shine a positive light toward where this team could be headed.
Corbin Cockerill is the team’s leading rookie scorer, with 10 goals and 23 points in 33 games. What’s more impressive than that are his four game-winning goals, which not only lead the team, but are good enough to be tied for sixth in the entire league.
Ty Grisdale started the season off with a bang, scoring in his first two games and putting up seven points in his first six. He cooled off towards the middle of the season but has quietly scored 12 points in his last 12 games, including a four-point night, a feat only one other person on the team has been able to do.
Impressive rookie numbers aren’t only reserved for skaters. In between the pipes, Riley O’Laney has been a steady force for the Cats, and is another case of the record (8-10-0) not entirely reflecting the impact a player is having. He’s one of only five rookie netminders who have played over 1,000 minutes this season, and has done so with the third-best goals-against-average. Furthermore, comparing first-year goalies with at least 15 games played, he’s given up the third-least goals despite facing the fifth-most shots.
The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League has such a high turnover with its players from year to year, because a player can age out after they hit 20, make the jump to Junior A or the WHL, or even just decide to head off to school. That makes finding a balance between new players that can compete in the league and veterans who know what it takes to win one of the most important and challenging aspects that every junior hockey team faces, and the Cats are no different.