Creston Valley Thunder Cats lose KIJHL Kootenay Conference finals

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Creston Valley Thunder Cat Logan Styler in the March 19 game against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

Creston Valley Thunder Cat Logan Styler in the March 19 game against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

The Creston Valley Thunder Cats lost the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Kootenay Conference finals on Monday at the John Bucyk Arena, after winning the first game on March 18 but losing the next four to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

Coming off a hard-fought game 7 win in the Eddie Mountain Division finals, the Thunder Cats took a bit of time to get into the series, which marked their first time as a contender for the conference title.

“We didn’t have one player that’s ever been in the third round before,” said head coach Josh Hepditch. “I think they were kind of emotionally spent from the series before. Trying to get back down to reality was tough for them.”

After splitting games 1 and 2, the Thunder Cats visited Fruitvale for game 3.

“We knew it was going to be really challenging,” said Hepditch.

Although Colby Livingstone scored the first goal, the Thunder Cats were down 4-1 by the end of the second period. Logan Styler scored in the middle of the third, with two more Nitehawks goals resulting in a 6-2 loss for the Thunder Cats.

“We just couldn’t find a way to get any momentum going,” said Hepditch.

The Thunder Cats put in a “much better effort” on Saturday, Hepditch said, but ran into penalty trouble, and scored only three goals.

“We had some good chances, but couldn’t find a way to score,” he said of the 5-3 loss.

The Thunder Cats managed a single goal in each period, with Livingstone and Brandon Formosa scoring in the first and second periods, respectively. The Nitehawks scored twice in each of the first two periods and once in the third, with Matti Jmaeff scoring the Thunder Cats’ final goal with 1:10 left in the game.

When the series returned to Creston for Monday’s game 5 — a 6-2 loss for Creston — the Nitehawks scored early in the first period. Trevor Hanna responded with a power-play goal just over a minute later, but Beaver Valley goals put the Thunder Cats behind 3-1 by the end of the period. The visitors scored the second period’s only goal, and twice in the third period before Connor Kidd scored the Thunder Cats’ final goal of the season with 4:54 remaining.

“The guys didn’t quit, which was great,” said Hepditch. “They threw everything they could at them, but just couldn’t find a way to get that momentum again.”

Although he — and, of course, the fans — would have liked to see the Thunder Cats go farther, Hepditch said the team has a lot to be proud of, particularly the fact that the Thunder Cats have never previously been past the second round.

“They’ve got to hold their heads high,” he said. “At the end of the day, they’re still the best team that’s ever been in Creston.”

And the experience the players — including this season’s 10 rookies — gained in the playoffs is something they can build on next year.

“They’ll come back hungrier,” Hepditch said.