Two home ice wins on the weekend and a Monday night win on the road have put the Creston Valley Thunder Cats in the driver’s seat in their first-round playoff series against Columbia Valley Rockies.
The T-Cats racked up 5-1 and 7-2 wins in the John Bucyk Arena, showing off their ability to play well offensively and in their own zone. They continued to dominate with a 7-4 win in Invermere on Monday night.
On Friday night, after being outshot 14-12 in a scoreless first period, four Creston scorers bulged the twin in the middle frame. Justen James (Thomas Cankovic and Austin Anselmo), Brodie Smith (Bryce Sturm and McConnell Kimmett) Grant Iles (Ronnie Wilkie and Liam Rycroft) and Tyler Severson (Cankovic and James) put the home team up by a 4-0 margin in front of 439 cheering fans.
Peter Matthews put the Rockies on the board with a power play effort 7:19 into the third period, but Ronnie Wilkie (Liam Plunkett and Cankovic) replied with his own man advantage goal and it was game over.
“We came in focused for this series and really got going after the first ten minutes or so of the first period,” assistant coach Brad Tobin told the Advance on Sunday. “We kept the pressure going on the forecheck and didn’t give their defence any time or space to make plays in the Rockies zone.”
Asked what the team needed to work on to have success in the 2017 KIJHL playoffs, Tobin said, “Keeping the consistency going for a full 60 minutes, especially in a playoff series when you see them numerous times in a short span.”
He said a couple of players stood out for their contribution in Game 1.
“Brock Lefebvre had a great game, especially in the first period when we needed some time to get going in our overall game. Made some big saves and was a steady presence in net for us. It was great to see Tyler Severson back in the lineup and contribute offensively with a goal.”
Creston outshot Columbia Valley 45-31 and Lefebvre, who missed more than a month of play after sustaining a concussion in December, was strong in goal for the Thunder Cats.
Saturday’s game saw Creston fall behind when Riley Knott scored an unassisted marker eight minutes into the game. Iles tied the game with help from Severson and the period ended in a tie.
“It was a quick start for us in the first period despite the score, we dictated the pace of play throughout the full 60 minutes. We used our speed and created all types of chances in their zone,” Tobin said.
Once again, Creston dominated in the second period, scoring five goals and skating off with an insurmountable lead. James (Wilkie), Cankovic (Wilkie and Lien Miller-Jeannotte), Cankovic again (Wilkie and James), Paxton Malone (Sturm) and Michael Spenrath (Miller-Jeannotte) beat goalie Ben Kelsch.
Mike Dyck and Kimmett (Jonathan Lee and Miller-Jeannotte) traded power play goals in the third period.
The assistant coach called for his team to maintain focus, and singled out the play of two forwards.
‘Discipline needed to be better, especially towards the end of the game when the score was out of reach and emotions were high,” he said. “Thomas Cankovic again had a great game, playing well in both ends of the rink. He built off his three-assist performance in game one and contributed two goals Saturday in the win. His linemate Ronnie Wilkie mirrored his performance in both ends of the rink as well and has also been contributing on the scoresheet.”
Columbia Valley didn’t do themselves any favours by sending a steady stream of players into the penalty box, and they gave up three power play markers for the indiscretions. Kelsch was replaced in net by Will McCreight after 40 minutes, and the twosome faced a 53-shot onslaught by the Thunder Cats. Lefebvre was strong again, turning aside 25 of the 27 shots he faced to pick up his second straight win.
The Rockies picked up 11 minor penalties and a misconduct in the game, while the Thunder Cats were sent off for 4 minors.
In Invermere, the Rockies mounted an offensive pushback, outshooting the Thunder Cats 49-44 in a wide open affair that saw the teams tied 2-2 after 20 minutes of play.
Malone opened the scoring with assists from Severson and Sturm and David Burton responded with a goal of his own. Lee (Iles and Cankovic) scored on the power play but Tyler Bordt responded with 1:30 left to play in the period.
Spenrath (Plunkett and Kimmett) and Kalenuik (Lee and Severson) scored the only goals of the second period.
Two goals from the red hot Cankovic (James, Severson and Kilcommons) pushed Creston’s lead to 6-2 before Braydon Barker and Dawson Boehm narrowed the margin. Spenrath ended the goal fest with an empty netter from Iles. Lefebvre again backstopped the T-Cats to the win.
The Thunder Cats had the opportunity to sweep the Rockies, with the teams scheduled to play again on Tuesday night, after the Advance went to press.
They will also be watching the other Eddie Mountain Division series with interest. Fernie Ghostriders took a 2-1 lead over the second place Kimberley Dynamiters with a 6-5 home ice win on Monday night. It would be a major upset if Fernie can knock off the Dynamiters.