There will be new faces on the ice and one behind the bench when the Creston Valley Thunder Cats kick off the 2011-2012 season on Friday night with a home game against the Kimberley Dynamiters.
Just seven players from last season return to the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League team, now overseen by head coach and general manager Brent Heaven, replacing Joe Martin, who coached the team from 2007-2011.
This is Heaven’s sixth season coaching a KIJHL team, having coached the Castlegar Rebels from 2005-2010, and the Kootenay Ice major midget team last season. After a year off, he’s excited to return to the KIJHL.
“I like to develop kids and work with younger groups,” he said.
The 31-year-old, originally from Kamloops, played minor hockey with the BCHL for three-and-a-half years after high school, as well as junior and senior A lacrosse. His time in those sports influenced his current training style.
“I’m not a passive coach by any means,” he said. “I love that aggressive style. That’s the way I played when I was younger and, obviously, that’s the way I like to coach. …
“My philosophy is that the other teams are playing against us.”
The Thunder Cats did well last season, and finished the season with 26 wins, 19 losses, three ties and two overtime losses, which earned 57 points, 30 less than the Fernie Ghostriders, who dominated the KIJHL’s Eddie Mountain Division. Behind the Thunder Cats were the Golden Rockets, with 46 points, and the Kimberley Dynamiters, with 40. The Columbia Valley Rockies brought up the rear with 26.
From last season, forwards Scott Swiston, Brock Ward, C.J. Caputo, Jordan Johnson and Jovi Fabbri, goalie Ryan Waldhaus and defenceman Trevor Leblanc will return. Jesse Collins, the Spokane Braves’ rookie of the year in the 2009-2010 season, will join them this season.
About 40 prospective players tried out at training camp from Sept. 2-4 in Trail (the John Bucyk Arena was undergoing renovations), and about a quarter of those were from the Creston Valley.
On Sept. 8, the Thunder Cats beat the Columbia Valley Rockies 8-4, after being beaten 5-3 by the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Sept. 7. A third exhibition game was scheduled for Tuesday night (after the Advance’s press deadline), after which Heaven would make the final cuts to the roster before practicing with the final lineup yesterday and today.
When the cutting is finished, Heaven is certain that the 2011-2012 Thunder Cats will be a team fans will enjoy watching.
“I think these kids are going to buy in,” he said. “There are going to be some very talented hockey players.”
And he couldn’t be happier to guide the players here in the Creston Valley.
“I’ve only been here for a week, and I already love it,” he said on Monday. “It’s a beautiful place to live.”