Four point efforts from Sebastian Kilcommons and Liam Plunkett helped put Creston Valley Thunder Cats back in the win column on Tuesday night in Columbia Valley.
The result was a 9-2 road victory over the Rockies that broke the Thunder Cats three game losing streak. The Cats continue to go with with goalie Patrick Osterman, with regular starter Brock Lefebvre still out with an injury.
“It was important for us to bounce back after those two tough losses on the weekend before,” coach Jeff Dubois said from Vancouver on Monday. “We mixed things up a little, and the line of Paxton Malone, Liam Plunkett and Brodie Smith really came through as a line.”
Creston skated off with a 2-0 lead after one period of play, with McConnel Kimmett scoring from Kilcommons and Malone notching his 20th goal of the season.
The Thunder Cats continued to press in the middle frame. Kilcommons (Malone and Plunkett), Ronnie Wilkie and Malone again, this time from Plunkett, put the visitors up 5-0 before Riley Knott scored on a penalty shot to break Osterman’s goose egg.
Kilcommons opened the scoring in the third, with assists from Thomas Cankovic and Wilkie. Tyler Bordt scored the Rockies’ second goal and then three more Creston goals sealed the rout. Cankovic (Julian Benner), Kilcommons, completing his hat-trick (Benner and Plunkett) and Brodie Smith (Benner and Plunkett) all scored.
“It was good to have Julian Benner back after he went to Cowichan for a couple of BCJHL games.
“All in all we played a control game offensively and the guys were ready for a full 60 minute effort. They were in a pretty grumpy mood and really used it to their advantage.”
On Friday night, the Cats skated to a 2-1 home win over the Grand Forks Border Bruins, thanks to sterling play by goalie Osterman.
“It was a tight score, but I thought we controlled the game,” Dubois said. “We were in the range of shots we want to generate—the high 30s—but their goaltender played really well. He had three or four goal-stopping saves.”
After a scoreless first period Dylan Haney put the Bruins up by one early in the middle frame. A power play effort by Brodie Smith (Cankovic and Kimmet) tied the game, and then Wilkie scored what would hold up to be the winning goal with a setup by Benner. The third period was scoreless.
“We didn’t give up too many chances on the defensive side, our penalty killing was good and Osterman did a good job for us in goal.
“It was a good team effort that showed our team’s character and how a willingness to play defense pays off.”
Saturday night’s game in Fernie, Creston’s last until New Year’s Eve, was a spirited affair, with the Thunder Cats riding out a strong start to a 7-4 victory.
“That was a bit of a wild game—pretty entertaining hockey in front of a good crowd,” he said. “Offensively, we were doing some good things, which isn’t easy on Fernie’s small ice surface, and we were rewarded for getting pucks on the net.”
Although the team gave up four goals, Dubois said a few were on the strange side.
“Fernie is a big, strong team and they took over in the second period. When they get their forecheck going it’s really tough to get the puck back from them.
“We did a really good job of protecting the lead in the third period.”
Smith (Benner and Cankovic), on the power play, James (Lien Miller-Jeannotte) and Cankovic (Benner and Cole Arcuri) put Creston in the lead before Mitch Titus put Fernie on the board late in the first period.
The teams took turns scoring in the second. Brendan Nemes made it a one-goal game at the 18:28 mark, then Plunkett (Liam Rycroft), Keelan Saworski and Smith (Benner), on the power play, scored to leave Creston ahead by a 5-3 margin.
Another power play effort, this time by Plunket (Kilcommons) made it 6-3. Alex Cheveldave closed the gap late, but Plunkett scored into the empty net to put the game away.
Osterman turned away 35 of 39 shots in his sixth consecutive win.
A twelve-day Christmas break is a welcome one for the team, which had a flurry of injuries in November and December. Dubois said Lefebvre should be ready to return on New Year’s Eve, as should three “point-a-game forwards”. Kyle Berg had returned earlier in the month after injuring his ankle, played briefly and re-injured it. Grant Iles also had an ankle injury that caused him to miss four games. And Aiden Wong should be healthy again after missing most of December.
The three-win week puts Creston back in top spot in the KIJHL standings, although they have played three more games than the Beaver Valley Nitehawks and four more than the Osoyoos Coyotes. Beaver Valley leads the league with a nifty .810 win percentage, with Osoyoos close behind at .804. Creston’s .750 is good for third.
The Thunder Cats continue to lead the league in the plus-minus category, having scored 72 goals more than they have surrendered. Beaver Valley has narrowed the gap, though, and now stands at +67.
Malone’s effort for the week put him back in a tie for top in the league scoring race. He and Castlegar Rebel Logan Styler have 51 points apiece. Plunkett now sits in 9th place, with 40 points, and Cankovic’s 34 points have him in 20th spot.
Lefebvre has the league’s fifth best goals against average at 2.41.
With only 15 games remaining in the regular season schedule, Dubois said he is reasonably pleased. But the focus has to be on effort and consistency, two keys to successful playoff teams, Dubois said.
“We need to see night-to-night consistency,” he said. “And when we do that well we will have success. We have what we need personnel wise.”
The coaching team’s focus will be on evaluating the players and defining their roles, so each player knows what is expected when the games get more intense and meaningful.
“Other than the three-game losing streak we’ve been a good team,” he said. “We had no back-to-back losses prior to that.”
Dubois credited Osterman with his play in the absence of Lefebvre.
“He has really stepped up for us, kept us in games and carried the load.”