A week ago, just four points separated the Creston Valley Thunder Cats from the Eddie Mountain Division’s last-place team, the Columbia Valley Rockies.
But after earning five points in four games, Creston’s Kootenay International Junior Hockey League team has pulled farther ahead, now with 18 points, just two behind the third-place Golden Rockets.
Their recent stint of four games in five days started on Oct. 29, hosting the Kimberley Dynamiters, whom the Thunder Cats edged 4-3 in double overtime.
The Dynamiters scored early with “a bit of a weird goal on a power play that took a strange deflection,” said head coach Jeff Dubois.
Kimberley added two more before Maverick Lynes scored for the Thunder Cats with 16 seconds left in the first period. Being down 3-1 gave the Thunder Cats the pressure they needed, and Tyler Fyfe and Connor Ward each added a goal for the Thunder Cats in the second period, tying the score. Mason Mazur scored the game-winner in the second five-minute overtime period.
“It was a really good sign how we can come back in a game, and control the pace and tempo of the game,” said Dubois, who added that three of the team’s top six players were out sick that night.
On Friday, the Thunder Cats visited the Castlegar Rebels, carrying along the energy they built two days earlier, Dubois said, but ultimately lost 3-2 in overtime.
The Rebels started the scoring with a power-play goal at 14:03, which Alec Wilkinson matched with 48 second left in the period. Fyfe put the Thunder Cats in the lead with a second period goal, tied by Castlegar halfway through the third period. The first overtime period lasted three minutes before Rebels scored the game-winner.
“It was a good road game,” Dubois said.
Whatever energy the Thunder Cats had in Castlegar wasn’t present when they visited the Spokane Braves on Saturday, suffering a 3-0 loss and being outshot 36-29 by the Braves.
“On Saturday, it seemed like we were going through the motions for the most part,” said Dubois.
This turned around on Sunday, when the Thunder Cats routed the visiting Osoyoos Coyotes 8-4, playing through the exhaustion of the previous few days.
“I think if players were being honest, they’d tell you there was not much energy left in the tank at that point,” said Dubois. “If the effort wasn’t there, it would probably get ugly pretty quick.”
The Thunder Cats scored twice in the first period, with an Osoyoos goal between goals by Austin Steger (power play) and Ward.
Lien Miller-Jeannotte scored the Thunder Cats’ third goal early in the second period, with an Osoyoos power-play goal quickly following. Thre next three minutes saw three more from Thunder Cats Fyfe (power play), Marcel Fuchs and Connor Kidd, with an Osoyoos goal making the score 6-3 at the end of the period.
The final Osoyoos goal was scored eight minutes into the third period, with Carson Cartwright and Jack Berger scoring the last two for the Thunder Cats late in the period.
A total of eight Thunder Cats scored in the game, with 12 earning points — including Cartwright and Kidd with four and Miller-Jeannotte with three.
“It was definitely offence by committee,” said Dubois. “We spread the offence around and got some production from all four lines and our defence, as well.”
This weekend is parents’ weekend, so the Thunder Cats will have plenty of extra spectators as they host the Nelson Leafs, Fernie Ghostriders and Columbia Valley Rockies. Together with the Coyotes, the Leafs and Ghostriders are the top three teams in the league, Fernie also being at the top of the Thunder Cats’ division.
“To go through a stretch where we play the top three teams in the league is unusual, but we look at that as a challenge to see where we are,” said Dubois. “It’s a test for us and if we come out on other end with good results against those teams, then probably our expectation should be to be one of those top teams.”