The Creston Valley Thunder Cats ended their regular season on Saturday, beating the Columbia Valley Rockies 4-1 three days before they would face each other in the first round of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs.
“It was like we almost started early,” said Thunder Cats head coach Josh Hepditch. “The game that they played Saturday is almost the same as what we feel they’re going to play.”
The Thunder Cats and Rockies play their first two playoff games in Creston tonight and tomorrow, and they will visit Invermere Friday and Saturday for the next two. Should more than four games be necessary, the next would be played in Creston (March 3) and Invermere (March 4), with game 7 in Creston (March 5).
The season’s penultimate game took place Feb. 19 in Grand Forks, which resulted in the Thunder Cats, in first place in the Eddie Mountain Division, beating the Border Bruins, at the bottom of the Neil Murdoch Division and no shot at the playoffs, 5-2.
“They’re still a pretty good team,” said Hepditch. “We wanted to make sure we kept our own game sharp for the playoffs.”
The Border Bruins scored the first period’s only goal, with Thunder Cats goalie Brock Lefebvre making some early saves to keep the Thunder Cats in the game. Thunder Cats Brandon Formosa (power play), Connor Kidd and Matti Jmaeff each scored in the second period. The Border Bruins added a second goal early in the third, but Jesse Collins scored at 3:45, with Logan Styler adding the fifth goal with 23 seconds left in the game.
And if the Thunder Cats keep making 62 shots on net, as they did in this game, that wouldn’t hurt, either.
“When you get that many shots, something good is bound to happen,” said Hepditch.
The Thunder Cats made 63 shots on Saturday, when they hosted the Rockies. The game started out slowly, though, with a single goal by Jmaeff in the first period.
“We were a little unsure how they were going to come out and play,” said Hepditch. “We were kind of just feeling out the water at the start. They came out and wanted to play hard, so we raised our game to where we can play.”
Connor Ward and Ethan Rusnack scored in the second period, and Jaymes Veitch scored in the third before the Rockies got their first goal with five minutes left in the game. Rusnack earned three points in that game, assisting on the second and fourth goals.
“He set up a lot of good plays, and was very good on the penalty kill,” said Hepditch. “That’s something we’re going look for him to do right into the playoffs.”
Although the Rockies’ 37-point record didn’t come close to the Thunder Cats’ 80 points — and still behind the Kimberley Dynamiters’ 60 and Fernie Ghostriders’ 54 — Hepditch said the Thunder Cats can’t take the Rockies fourth-place finish for granted.
“We’re going to have to play well to even get out of the first round,” he said. “Columbia Valley is a good team, and if we don’t bring our game, we’re not moving past them.
“We’ve just got to find a way to get pucks to the net and hope we get some in the net.”