A 12-day break between games over the holidays didn’t keep the Creston Valley Thunder Cats from marking two victories last week, beating the Fernie Ghostriders 4-3 in overtime on New Year’s Eve and 3-1 on Saturday.
“You always wonder what you’re going to get coming off a long break and only having a couple practices to prepare,” said head coach Jeff Dubois of the Dec. 31 game. “We came out of the gates hard. Our conditioning wasn’t an issue.”
Ian Desrosiers scored twice for Creston in the first period. Desrosiers was formerly a top scorer for the Golden Rockets, for whom he played since 2011, and acquired by the Thunder Cats after he played five games with the Rockets this season.
“It took him a bit of time to find his rhythm with us,” said Dubois. “He kind of found that goal-scoring touch again.”
A goal with a minute left in the second period by Sebastian Kilcommons gave the Thunder Cats a 3-0 lead.
“He jumped up in the rush and made a nice play,” said Dubois. “He’s solid in terms of defence and control of the puck.”
The Ghostriders — in third place a point behind Creston’s 45 in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Eddie Mountain Division — tied the score with three goals in the third period, sending the game into overtime.
With 1:28 left in the second overtime period, Alec Wilkinson scored on a breakaway for the Thunder Cats’ final goal of 2015.
“We probably didn’t want it to get to overtime in the first place,” said Dubois. “But there was a New Year’s atmosphere in the crowd. It was a pretty cool way to finish out the year.”
On Saturday, the Thunder Cats visited Fernie, hoping for a different outcome than the 7-4 loss they endured there on Dec. 17.
“We really spent a lot of time keying on our road performance,” said Dubois. “We’ve played our best hockey at home and we’ve struggled at that level of play away from Creston.”
Scoring in the 3-1 win started with a power-play goal by Creston’s Carson Cartwright early in the second period, unmatched until a power-play goal by the Ghostriders four minutes into the third period. Colby Livingstone scored the game-winner 11 minutes later, and Dylan Hogue added an empty-netter with 28 seconds remaining.
“It was a really solid road effort,” said Dubois. “It was what we were looking for in road performance.”
A strong defensive core was an asset in the game, as were the 31 shots blocked by Creston’s goalie.
“Brocke Lefebvre made a number of saves that either kept that one-nothing lead or kept it one-one,” said Dubois. “It was a pretty vintage game for him.”
With those wins, the Thunder Cats secured a playoff position, along with the Ghostriders and the division-leading Kimberley Dynamiters. The fourth slot is still undetermined; the Columbia Valley Rockies have 40 points and the Golden Rockets have 11, making it statistically possible for Golden to catch up.
“That kind of checks off one goal for the season,” Dubois said.
Following a visit to Kimberley tonight, the Thunder Cats host the Castlegar Rebels on Friday. The West Kootenay team has had a strong season, Dubois said, and is in second place with 46 points in the Neil Murdoch Division.
“They’re a dangerous offensive team,” said Dubois. “They’ve got a group of guys that can put the puck in the net. It’s a bit of track meet against them.”
On Saturday, the Thunder Cats will head to Invermere to take on the Columbia Valley Rockies. The last time they visited, Creston allowed the Rockies to dominate for a 6-1 lead before a third-period comeback resulted in a 6-5 loss.
“Realistically, we’ve already put a lot of time into figuring out how to be better away from home,” said Dubois. “That’s a place we’ve been pretty miserable up to this point. The Rockies are a potential playoff opponent, so we’ve got to put forward a better effort in that rink.”