The KIJHL’s top offensive team is suddenly struggling as the Creston Valley Thunder Cats dropped a second straight game to the Columbia Valley Rockies on Monday night.
The 4-2 loss in Invermere followed Saturday night’s home ice setback for Creston. On Friday night, the Thunder Cats won the series opener with an 8-1 romp over the Eddie Mountain Division’s first place finisher. Creston finished in the division’s second spot, with the fifth best record in the KIJHL’s regular season.
The Thunder Cats outshot their opponents 38-30 on Monday, but only Bryce Sturm was able to solve the goaltending of Ben Kelsch.
Sturm (Jack McCardle and Liam Plunkett) tied the game at 1-1 after Ryan Skytt opened the scoring in the first period. He then brought Creston back even following Joshua Antunes goal midway through the opening 20 minutes, with assists from Ronnie Wilkie and Logan Rast.
After a scoreless second period, Dace Prymak and Cooper Krauss put the game on ice in third in front of more than 400 fans in Invermere.
The Thunder Cats power play was held scoreless in 6 opportunities.
The teams opened their best-of-seven series in Creston on Friday night, and fans left the game convinced it would be a short and easy series after a convincing 8-1 victory.
Brody Ryan (Colten Witter and Bryce Sturm) opened the scoring 12:14 into the game and Dawson McGuire (Conor Monaghan and Witter) put Creston into a 2-0 lead after one period of play.
Columbia Valley got on the board a minute into the middle frame with a goal from Mike Dyck, but the T-Cats turned on the jets and never looked back.
Ronnie Wilkie (Liam Plunkett and Sturm), Darby Berg, Plunkett (Sturm and Kason Furukawa), Dylan Rantucci (Tyler Witzke and Ryan), Monaghan (Rantucci and Witzke) and Aiden Wong (Berg) all scored before the period ended and that was all she wrote for scoring.
The Thunder Cats outshot the opposition 17-10, 16-9 and 14-0 by period and got points from 12 players in the rout. Levi Mitchell stopped all but one of the 19 shots he faced and was solid in goal. Bryce Sturm led all players with 3 points.
It was an entirely different story on Saturday night when the T-Cats were brought back down to earth, dropping a 5-2 decision.
“We were fighting the puck for most of the night, not being able to connect on the simple passes out of our zone wasn’t helping our cause,” head coach Brad Tobin said on Sunday. “Our emotions were getting the best of us for a second straight night. Certain players need to understand that taking us off the powerplay on a delayed penalty doesn’t help the team in the playoffs where every powerplay is crucial.”
Cooper Kraus and Liam Plunkett (Liam Rycroft) traded goals in the opening 20 minutes. Joshua Antunes opened the second-period scoring after 1:32 of play. Ronnie Wilkie (Carson Small and Kason Furukawa) tied the game at 2-2 but a late period goal by Kade Garrity turned out to be the game-winner.
Garritty and Ryan Skitt, with an empty-netter, scored for Columbia Valley in the third.
“I liked our pushback in the later stages of the contest, we had our opportunities to tie it up in the 3rd period, but weren’t able to convert,” Tobin said.
Back up goalie Sam Burford has been in goal for both losses, with starter Levi Mitchell on the bench for Saturday’s game but not dressed on Monday. Creston was once again without Justen James, their third highest scorer, who has an upper body injury and has not suited up for a playoff game.
The series resumes in Invermere on Tuesday night and the teams return to Creston on Thursday for Game 5.
A 5-2 Sunday night win over the Fernie Ghostriders has the Kimberley Dynamiters in a 3-0 lead in their opening playoff series.