The points just keep adding up for the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, who won three games on the weekend, maintaining a first-place lead in the Eddie Mountain Division of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
Victories over the Golden Rockets on Friday and Sunday held that team in last place, with 19 points, while Saturday’s win added a sixth game to fourth-place Golden’s losing streak.
A crowd of over 500 attended Friday’s 6-2 win at the John Bucyk Arena, which started out with a scoreless first period.
“It was a solid all-around game,” said head coach Josh Hepditch. “They came out strong in the first period, but we held them off and got better as we went.”
Golden scored the game’s first goal in the second period, with two goals by Thunder Cat Connor Ward following soon after. Less than a minute into the third period, Carson Cartwright scored for the Thunder Cats, assisted by Colton St. John, who assisted on four goals in the game. Goals by Connor Kidd, Cartwright and Colby Livingstone followed before the Rockets scored with 25 seconds remaining.
The line of Ward, Cartwright and St. John was the Thunder Cats’ best in the game, said Hepditch, with the three KIJHL newcomers earning 10 points between them.
On Saturday, the Thunder Cats travelled to Invermere to take on the Rockies, which resulted in a 6-4 victory that saw the Creston’s Ethan Rusnack score two goals and Logan Styler score one in the first period.
“We kind of came out with a big bang in the first period, then went to sleep in the second period and let them back in it,” said Hepditch.
The Rockies scored three goals in the second period before Trevor Hanna added a fourth for Creston with 1:29 left in the period. In the third-period, Seth Schmidt scored on a power play, with a fourth Rockies goal following a few minutes later. Rusnack earned a hat trick, scoring the Thunder Cats’ sixth with 1:34 remaining in the game.
In his first weekend with the Thunder Cats, 17-year-old Kyle Michalovsky impressed Hepditch, stopping 20 Golden shots on Friday and 15 from Columbia Valley on Saturday.
“He made the timely saves we needed and held us in there so we could get though sixty minutes,” said Hepdtich.
Backup goalie Brock Lefebvre took over for Sunday’s game, stopping 37 of Golden’s 40 shots, helping the Thunder Cats earn a 6-3 victory.
Styler scored the game’s first goal on a power play at 7:53 in the first period, with Cartwright scoring a second at 0:56. The Rockets scored at 0:09, and tied the game with a second late in the second period.
“We weren’t as sharp as we wanted to be, but we survived,” said Hepditch. “Our depth took over as we went on.”
Thunder Cat Justin Post scored the first goal in the third period, and after one more by the Rockets, Hanna, Rusnack (unassisted) and Tyler Podgorenko (shorthanded) added three more.
The weekend’s games were the Thunder Cats’ last until Dec. 30, said Hepditch, and although the final weekend before Christmas break can be a tough one, he was pleased with their performance.
“The guys are really buying in to the system we’re trying to put in place,” he said. “It’s starting to pay off now. We’ve been playing very well in all parts of our game.”
The Thunder Cats’ power play is currently first in the league, with their penalty kill in second.
“If you can win the special teams, you’re most likely going to win the game,” said Hepditch.
The first week after the break will be a busy one for the Thunder Cats, who host the Kimberley Dynamiters and Fernie Ghostriders — currently second and third, respectively, in the Eddie Mountain Division — on Dec. 30 and 31, and then travel to Invermere on Jan. 3 before hosting the 100 Mile House Wranglers on Jan. 4.
But with the Christmas break giving the team a bit of a rest, Hepditch anticipates that the Thunder Cats will be able to pick up where they left off.
“They’re gelling like we wanted them to,” he said.