The Creston Valley Thunder Cats ended a three-game winning streak by losing Friday and Saturday’s games, but handed the league-leading Nelson Leafs their first regulation-time loss of the season on Sunday, allowing the Creston team to pull farther ahead in the Eddie Mountain Division of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
“Everyone in our division lost both Friday and Saturday, and we won Sunday,” said head coach Josh Hepditch. “It worked out for us, but not the way we want it to go for the rest of the year, that’s for sure.”
With 24 points, the Thunder Cats are three points ahead of the Kimberley Dynamiters, and five ahead of the Fernie Ghostriders and Columbia Valley Rockies, tied for third place. The Golden Rockets bring up the rear with 14 points.
Friday’s game at the John Bucyk Arena resulted in a 7-2 loss to the Kamloops Storm, which leads the Doug Birks Division with 32 points.
“We actually played better than the score showed. We had a rocky start and they took advantage of that.”
After the Storm scored two goals, Brandon Formosa netted one for the Thunder Cats on a power play at 6:05, but two more Kamloops goals put Creston down 4-1 by the end of the first period.
The Thunder Cats felt they were still in the game, Hepditch said, but two penalties — Colby Livingstone for high-sticking and Formosa for interference — at 11:55 in the second allowed Kamloops to make three power-play goals.
In the third period, Formosa scored the only goal, with the Thunder Cats outshooting the Storm 12-8.
Saturday’s 8-5 loss to the Grand Forks Border Bruins had a better start, with Justin Post making the first goal and Livingstone scoring twice to give the Thunder Cats a 3-2 lead. In the second period, though, only Trevor Hanna scored for the Thunder Cats, with Grand Forks adding four more to their total.
“We kind of took the second period off, and they took advantage of that,” said Hepdtich.
A shorthanded, unassisted goal by Connor Kidd was it for the Thunder Cats in the third period, sandwiched between shorthanded and empty-net goal by the Border Bruins.
It was a different story when the league-leading Nelson Leafs visited on Sunday, only to go home with their first regulation-time loss this season.
“It wasn’t like the best game of our season,” said Hepditch of the 9-3 victory. “We just played an actual typical game that the guys have been playing lately. It was definitely a huge confidence builder for them to give Nelson their first loss.”
The Leafs started the scoring, with Formosa (shorthanded) and Kidd scoring shortly after. Nelson followed that with a second goal at 5:12, but Jesse Collins and Marcel Fuchs soon scored for a total of 4-2 at the end of the first period.
The Thunder Cats dominated the second period with four goals, scored by Kidd, Collins (power play), Logan Styler (shorthanded) and Formosa. In the third period, Matthew Murray scored the Thunder Cats only goal at 16:14, and the Leafs responded with a third goal at 2:16.
The Thunder Cats will need to maintain that confidence this weekend, when they travel to Kimberley and Invermere for two divisional games.
This will be their third match against the Dynamiters this season; on Nov. 1 and 2, the Thunder Cats earned two 5-2 victories over them.
“Kimberley is right behind us,” said Hepditch. “We’ve had two very tough games against them. Playing in their arena is very tough, so we really need to put in a good sixty-minute effort.”
The Thunder Cats have also beaten Invermere’s Columbia Valley Rockies in their two games this season, with scores of 6-4 and 11-1. But Hepditch doesn’t want to see his team try to coast on those victories.
“That’s going to be a really tough game on Saturday, because in our division if you don’t come ready to play, you’re not going to win,” he said.