Creston Valley Thunder Cats forward Matti Jmaeff in Friday’s game against the Castlegar Rebels.

Creston Valley Thunder Cats forward Matti Jmaeff in Friday’s game against the Castlegar Rebels.

Creston Valley Thunder Cats secure Eddie Mountain Division’s top spot

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The Creston Valley Thunder Cats reached one of their goals last week, securing the top spot in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Eddie Mountain Division.

That has encouraged them to set their sights higher — the top of the Kootenay Conference, which Eddie Mountain shares with the Neil Murdoch Division. Currently, the Nelson Leafs top that division and the Kamloops Storm lead the Doug Birks Division in the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference with 73 points, five ahead of the Thunder Cats.

“The kids realize how close we are to catching the other teams in front of us, so they want to keep it going,” said head coach Josh Hepditch.

Regardless, the Thunder Cats’ record to this point rivals that of previous seasons. The team is two points shy of a record of 70, earned in 2008-2009, when they won the division title, and has already passed a record of 30 wins, set in 2008-2009 and matched in 2011-2012.

So far this season, the Thunder Cats have 34 wins, which include three from last week that raised their winning streak to 13 games.

On Jan. 28, the Thunder Cats visited the Beaver Valley Nitehawks for a game they won 7-3.

“Our guys were pretty well prepared going down there,” said Hepditch. “They were first place in their division at the time. We sort of conquered their challenge.”

The Thunder Cats played “extremely well” in the first period, which was tied 1-1 after a power-play goal by Colby Livingstone. The second period started with goals by Carson Cartwright and Connor Kidd, at 17:00 and 16:33, respectively.

“That was a big energy boost for us,” said Hepditch.

They added three more goals in the second period, scored by Brandon Formosa (power play), Trevor Hanna and Kidd, with the Nitehawks scoring one. Marcel Fuchs scored the Thunder Cats’ only goal in the third period, before the Nitehawks added their third.

On Jan. 30, the Thunder Cats visited the Fernie Ghostriders — currently in third place in the Eddie Mountain Division — and shut out their hosts 1-0, in what Hepditch called a “good all-around game by both teams.”

With regular goaltender Kyle Michalovsky called away to play in Salmon Arm, Brock Lefebvre was in net, blocking 25 Fernie shots. Kidd scored the only goal on a power play at 6:40 in the second period.

“It was really good to see that we can pull off those games, as well,” said Hepditch. “When you get into those tight games, that’s what you have to learn to win, because that’s what you expect in the playoffs.”

On Friday, the Thunder Cats hosted the Castlegar Rebels, earning an 8-3 win. The Rebels took 45 shots on Creston’s net, and Hepditch credited Lefebvre for keeping the Thunder Cats in the game.

Ethan Rusnack scored the first goal at 17:24 in the first period, with Livingstone, Formosa (power play) and Hanna (power play) adding goals for a 4-2 tally at the end of the period. Formosa and Nicholas Thompson added two more in the second period, and Rusnack scored twice in the third period before the Rebels scored the game’s final goal.

“That was our first hat trick on home ice,” said Hepditch. “There were lots of hats on the ice.”

The Thunder Cats maintained their busy schedule this week, visiting the Kimberley Dynamiters last night and hosting them tomorrow. With the games close together, the pair is a good playoff test.

“You get used to the other team and things usually start to heat up in the second game,” said Hepditch.

On Saturday, the Thunder Cats head to Fernie for a game that makes up for a postponement earlier in the season. With Fernie a point behind the second-place Dynamiters, the game is sure to be a tough one.

“They’re not going to give up those points easily, that’s for sure,” said Hepditch.

On Sunday, the Spokane Braves will visit the Thunder Cats, who beat them 7-2 in a January game. Although it will be the Thunder Cats’ fourth game in five days, being able to rotate four lines in each game has proven to be an asset, and Hepditch expects that will be no different this week.

“If we can use our depth in the first few games and keep everyone involved, hopefully we can save our energy as the week goes on,” he said.