Creston Valley Thunder Cats win first two games of season on Okanagan road trip

Web Lead

A three-day road trip to the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Okanagan Division proved a success for the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, who earned their first two wins of the season over the Princeton Posse and Kelowna Chiefs.

They suffered a 3-1 loss on Sunday, though, to the North Okanagan Knights, failing to maintain the steady stream of pucks and traffic to the opponents’ net that served them well the night before.

“Part of what we were happy with on Saturday was seeing those things come together,” said head coach Jeff Dubois. “We felt we had the recipe the night before, but we kind of came away from it.”

The wins allowed the Thunder Cats to pull farther away from the bottom of the Eddie Mountain Division, anchored by the Columbia Valley Rockies, pointless after five games. They are two points behind the Golden Rockets, and five points behind the Kimberley Dynamiters and Fernie Ghostriders, tied for first with 10 points.

Friday’s game started out with scoreless first and second periods, which came on the heels of a long bus ride to Princeton.

“The effort was there but some of the execution was a bit off,” said Dubois.

The third period lasted just over 12 minutes before the Posse scored, which the Thunder Cats answered two shift changes later with a goal by rookie Justin Post. They held off the Posse for the rest of the period, sending the game into overtime, which lasted 45 seconds before Austin Steger scored the game-winner.

“He definitely has an offensive side to his game,” said Dubois.

On Saturday, he said, the Thunder Cats did a better job of getting pucks to the net in the first and second periods. The Chiefs scored on a power play early in the first period, and Connor Kidd followed that with a power-play goal midway through the second, before late second-period and early third-period goals by the Chiefs had the Thunder Cats down 3-1.

“I really liked the resilience of the guys when we were down 3-1,” said Dubois. “The guys were positive and went back out with some energy.”

The Thunder Cats bounced back, with Carson Cartwright scoring twice on either side of an unassisted goal by Steger, for a 4-2 win that marked their first three-goal period and highest scoring game so far.

“That was a really satisfying one,” said Dubois. “We went five games to start the season where we didn’t score more than two goals.”

Dubois credited goaltender Brock Lefebvre, now in his third season with the Thunder Cats, with helping the team find success in those games.

“He was unbelievable on Friday night,” he said. “We easily could have been down a handful at one point, and he gave us a chance to win. He was, by a clear margin, our best player.”

On Sunday, things turned around when the Thunder Cats visited the Knights in Armstrong. It was also the Knights’ third game in three days, so “both teams were in the same spot,” said Dubois.

The Thunder Cats came out flat, he said, allowing the Knights to score once in the first and second periods before Trevor Beaton — in his third KIJHL season, and his first with Creston — answered with a goal for the Thunder Cats late in the third. With 13 second remaining, the Knights added another goal for a 3-1 win.

“North Okanagan’s a hardworking team,” said Dubois, who added they don’t have “an abundance of skill, but when they have success, it’s because they outwork opponents, and they outworked us.”

The Thunder Cats will play two games this weekend, starting with a visit to the Spokane Braves on Friday night. With nine points, the Braves are in second place in the Neil Murdoch Division, a point behind the Nelson Leafs.

Dubois will be watching footage of their games this week to see what the Thunder Cats are up against when they take on the team that just beat the Grand Forks Border Bruins 8-0.

“That kind of thing gets your attention,” he said.

The Washington trip will be followed by a home game against the visiting Summerland Steam, who hold second place in the Okanagan Division.

“They’re one of the stronger teams in the league, so that will be a good test for us,” he said.