With the first round of Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs in sight, the Creston Valley Thunder Cats added two wins and a loss to their 2015-16 record in last week’s games.
They followed a 4-0 defeat of the Nelson Leafs with a 5-3 win and 6-3 loss to the Columbia Valley Rockies, who, at third in the Eddie Mountain Division 10 points behind Creston’s 70, would be the Thunder Cats’ rival in the first round, which start tonight.
“Nelson was a little beat up, and not playing with a full lineup,” said Creston head coach Jeff Dubois.
Creston’s Logan Styler and James Severs each scored a power-play goal in the first period, with Carson Cartwright adding two more late in the second period.
Dubois said Nelson goalie Josh Williams made some big saves to keep Creston’s chances down, and Creston goalie Brock Lefebvre also did his part, stopping all of the Leafs’ 15 shots.
“He didn’t have a high volume of shots, but did stop a couple breakaways,” said Dubois.
On Friday, the Thunder Cats visited Invermere for the first of back-to-back games with the Columbia Valley Rockies. The game got off to a slow start, with Styler scoring for Creston in the first period, and two Rockies goals in the second.
“It was a situation where we’d already clinched second place in our division and Columbia Valley was still pushing for third place,” said Dubois.
Cartwright, Tyler Severson and Maverick Lynes each scored in the third period before the third Rockies’ goal, followed, with 40 seconds remaining, by a goal by Thomas Cankovic for a 5-3 win.
Saturday’s final game of the season, held in Creston, had a similar score, 6-3, this time a win for the Rockies.
“We didn’t come ready to play,” said Dubois. “Columbia Valley came out hard, and before you knew it, it was five-nothing at the end of the first period.”
Creston fought back, and halfway through the second period, Cartwright scored on a power play, with a Rockies goal following eight minutes later. Severs and Styler each added a goal in the third period.
“I was happy with how the guys bounced back from that,” said Dubois. “It definitely was a lesson in preparedness.”
That readiness should carry right into the playoffs, which began with games tonight and tomorrow in Creston, with the Thunder Cats heading to Invermere Friday and Saturday. (If needed, the teams will play Monday in Creston, Tuesday in Invermere and Wednesday in Creston, before the best-of-seven victor takes on either the division’s first-place Kimberley Dynamiters or fourth-place Fernie Ghostriders.)
“Having just seen Columbia Valley twice this weekend, we know what we’re getting,” said Dubois. “We’re getting a hard working team that’s really aggressive and fast. …
“I certainly hope from our end that there’s a high respect level for them. There certainly haven’t been any easy games from our end.”
One of his goals is for the Thunder Cats to keep doing what they’re already doing.
“We’re most comfortable playing our game, and not worrying too much about what the other team is doing,” said Dubois. “We’ve come to pride ourselves on playing a pretty speedy puck-possessive game, and that’s brought us success, so I think we’ll stick with it.”