The Creston Valley Thunder Cats will be building on this season’s success when they return for the 2016-17 season.
With 70 points — second to their record 80 points in the 2013-14 season — a record 20 wins at home and sweeping the first round of the playoffs, The Thunder Cats had significant success this season, which ended last week when the Kimberley Dynamiters shut them out of the second round of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs.
“We’ve had three very competitive seasons in a row here,” said head coach Jeff Dubois. “The goal of the organization is to be competitive year-in year-out.
“I think everyone was a little disappointed with where we finished this year, so I think the goal is to take a step forward next year and put a team on the ice in a position to compete and contend.”
Last week’s games, the third and fourth in a best-of-seven series against the Kimberley Dynamiters, resulted in a 5-2 loss and a 4-3 overtime loss for the Thunder Cats.
Already down two, game 3 on March 8 “was one where I don’t think we came in as prepared as we could have been,” said Dubois.
The Dynamiters scored five goals before Carson Cartwright scored for the Thunder Cats, 10 minutes into the third period. Alec Wilkinson scored Creston’s second goal about a minute later.
“Typically through the season when we faced adversity, we handled it pretty well,” said Dubois. “In game 3, things weren’t going well and it snowballed.”
He was proud of the team’s effort the next night, when Creston had a strong start, outshooting Kimberley 14-3 in the first period and a goal by Cartwright gave Creston a 1-0 lead by the end of the period.
The Dynamiters scored twice in the second period before a goal by Logan Styler tied the game 2-2. The third period was scoreless for 15 minutes until Kimberley scored, with Wilkinson tying the game at 3-3 with 2:23 remaining.
Although the Dynamiters ultimately scored the game-winner in overtime — as they did on March 5 and 6 — Dubois said Creston had a lot of good opportunities.
“A lot of time, overtime is sort of a flip of the coin. It didn’t come up our way in all three of the games, which is unusual.”
The Dynamiters are now advancing to take on the Beaver Valley Nitehwaks, the Neil Murdoch Division champions, in the Kootenays Conference finals.
“I suspect that Kimberley is going to go on a deep run here, and there’s a pretty good chance they will win a second league championship,” said Dubois.
In addition to ending the Thunder Cats’ season, the March 9 game also marked the end of the KIJHL careers of Cartwright, Wilkinson, Jackson Bruce-Fuoco, Nichols Kovacik and Ian Desrosiers, 20 year olds who are aging out of the league.
Dubois expects all will play at higher levels, and Kovacik has already signed with North Dakota’s University of Jamestown, as has 19-year-old defenceman Maverick Lynes.
He also anticipates eight to 12 players from this season will return, with some of those stepping up to fill the gaps.
“It’s a chance for some of the younger guys to step up into significant roles,” he said. “The essence of junior hockey is guys moving on and other guys having a chance to step up and grab opportunities.”
Among those could be Liam Plunkett or Sebastian Kilcommons, who Dubois said were “just looking to earn a spot. They were really established as key guys by the time the season was over.”
Dubois also looks forward to working with local players, such as Jake Livingstone and Logan Wullum, who showed significant development as the season progressed.
“A lot of the success of the team was a lot of guys developing nicely over the course of the year,” he said.