The Creston Valley Thunder Cats are now in tied for second place in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Eddie Mountain Division after two losses last week allowed the Fernie Ghostriders to catch up.
Both teams now have 39 points, with a game in hand giving Creston a bit of an edge over Fernie. The Kimberley Dynamiters lead the division with 53 points, pulling farther ahead after beating the Thunder Cats on Dec. 9 and Saturday.
In the Dec. 9 game, a 5-4 loss in Creston, the Thunder Cats outshot the Dynamiters 35-22.
“We played really well,” said head coach Jeff Dubois. “We limited Kimberley’s shots and scoring chances.”
One advantage for Creston was affiliate goalie Ben Kelsch — who plays for the Nelson-based Kootenay Ice in BC Hockey’s Major Midget League — who previously shut out the Golden Rockets in his first game with the Thunder Cats on Dec. 5.
“Ben certainly did everything we could ask of him,” said Dubois. “Kimberley’s a really good team, and getting thrown in in your second junior game was a big challenge.”
He was also impressed with hard work by defenceman Tyler Severson.
“He was really good all night, and had three assists,” said Dubois. “He was good moving the puck, and was good in the defensive zone.”
Kimberley scored twice in the first period before Nicholas Kovacik and Carson Cartwright (power play) tied the score late in the period. Kimberley scored first in the second period, with goals by Colby Livingstone and Carson Cartwright (power play) soon after. Two more Kimberley goals, including the game winner at 0:01, followed.
In the third period, Creston outshot Kimberley 15-3.
“Their goaltender made a couple of game-saving stops,” said Dubois.
Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Dynamiters was much tighter, with the Creston making 38 shots to Kimberley’s 33.
“It was definitely an end-to-end, pretty good-paced game,” said Dubois.
McConnell Kimmett scored Creston’s only goal in the middle of the second period, while Kimberley waited until 32 seconds were left in the period. The score was tied until the second overtime period, when the Thunder Cats took a penalty, “got caught on a bit of a sloppy change and they took advantage.”
Goalie Brock Lefebvre did his best to keep Creston in the game, said Dubois, and offered some strong competition against Kimberley goalie Tyson Brouwer.
“There was definitely a good battle between the two goaltenders,” he said.
The Thunder Cats play three nights in a row this week, starting by visiting the Fernie Ghostriders tonight, then hosting the Dynamiters tomorrow.
“Everybody in our room gets it: Kimberley is the team to beat right now,” said Dubois. “We need to find a way to be better — you know, five per cent better — to come out on right side of that score.”
On Saturday, Creston visits the Columbia Valley Rockies, who shut out Creston 3-0 in October. The Rockies are now five points behind the Thunder Cats in the division standings.
“They’re a hard team to play against,” said Dubois. “They’re physical and they come to battle and work. And they’ve got a good skill level on top of that.”
•Before Friday’s game, the Thunder Cats will retire No. 17, the jersey of Jesse Collins. The former Thunder Cats captain played for the team from 2011-2014 (after two season with the Spokane Braves) and is the KIJHL’s all-time leading scorer, with 391 points for 92 goals and 227 assists in 220 games. The ceremony will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the John Bucyk Arena.