With a win and a tie, the Creston Valley Thunder Cats earned three points on the weekend — keeping them, with 52, one point behind the second-place Kimberley Dynamiters.
And with eight games left in the season, they need to change the way they start games if they hope to take second and earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
“We’ve kind of been fighting our starts, especially on the road,” said head coach Jeff Dubois. “Friday night, we just came out flat, and played a soft first period.”
That game earned them a point for a 3-3 tie with the Nelson Leafs. Creston’s Carson Cartwright scored the game’s first goal, at 7:02 in the second period, “against the flow of play,” said Dubois. Two Nelson goals quickly followed.
Cartwright tied the score at 10:32 in the third period, and Nelson edged ahead a few minutes later. Austin Steger scored the game’s final goal at 3:14, sending the game into two scoreless overtime periods.
Dubois credited goalie Brock Lefebvre with keeping Creston in the game, stopping 32 Nelson shots.
“Brock really held us in, especially in the first thirty minutes where we weren’t really supporting him and we were giving up some good scoring opportunities,” he said.
Saturday’s game — a 5-2 win over the visiting Columbia Valley Rockies — was almost the opposite of Friday’s game, Dubois said.
“We came out really focused on having a good first period, and we definitely did,” he said. “It felt like the energy, the work ethic was exactly where we needed it to be in the first period.”
The first period saw four Creston goals, with Steger scoring on two power plays, and goals from Graeme Close and Connor Ward. But the Thunder Cats backed off in a scoreless second period, one that also saw the Thunder Cats earn 10 penalty minutes.
“I think there was a bit of a mentality that we were up four goals and going to coast through it,” said Dubois.
The Rockies, who trail the Thunder Cats at the bottom of the Eddie Mountain Division, attempted a comeback with two goals at 15:14 and 10:07 in the third period. Alec Wilkinson ended up scoring the game’s final goal for Creston.
With two goals and an assist, Steger has “really found his game offensively,” said Dubois, who also noted that Close’s goal was his first playing in the KIJHL.
“He just kind of snuck in from the point, then came out in front and he slammed it home,” Dubois said. “He works hard and he plays physical and the boys were excited to see him put one in the net.”
The Thunder Cat have three games coming up over the next week, hosting the Kimberley Dynamiters on Friday, visiting the Golden Rockets on Saturday and visiting Kimberley on Tuesday.
With two games against Kimberley, with whom Creston is battling for second or third position in the division, the next week could be a big one.
“Between the home game on Friday and road game on Tuesday, there’s a chance for somebody to distance themselves a little bit in terms of second-place position,” said Dubois.
The Thunder Cats have had a couple of close games in Golden’s rink, and with the Rockets just five points behind them in the standings, Creston’s team will have to be ready to play hard.
“It’s a whole different game when you go into their rink,” he said. “You’ve got to shake off the bus legs pretty quick and be ready to go, otherwise that can get you.”