Leading up to the start of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s 2020-21 season, which starts Nov. 13, 2020, the league is publishing team previews.
These previews will highlight areas of focus for the respective organizations as well as players. Our last story featured the Columbia Valley Rockies, and now we stay in the Eddie Mountain Division and highlight the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
The Thunder Cats lost in the first round of the Teck Cup playoffs in five games to the Kimberley Dynamiters.
Bill Rotheisler praises the work that previous coach-general manager Nick Redding did to build a special environment in Creston Valley.
The new Thunder Cats coach-GM says Redding did “an exceptional job” in recruiting and addressing needs and that is a big reason returning to the Thunder Cats was attractive to Rotheisler.
“I just tried to carry on from that blueprint,” says Rotheisler, who returns to the KIJHL from the Alberta Junior Hockey League. “He was accurate in addressing the organization's needs in recruiting players that have been able to produce offensively in a variety of different cultures.”
The Thunder Cats made moves to add size and defensive skill to complement their offensive players.
“We expect a handful of guys to take advantage of that. We don't know which ones yet, but they will be given those opportunities and then we will be watching close from there,” says Rotheisler.
Another area Redding addressed during the offseason was bolstering the blueline with players who are tough to play against. They can join the offence and have the mobility to move the puck. Combined with the moves Redding made and what Rotheisler has done since taking over, the Thunder Cats addressed offensive needs and overall skill on defence.
In goal, they have Jaden Little returning and he will share the crease with the talented Harmon Hume. The Thunder Cats also plan on adding a third goalie.
Thunder Cats goalie Jaden Little dives to stop this shot from a Grand Forks Border Bruin in KIJHL action last season.
Rotheisler is preparing his team by playing more exhibition games and is taking advantage of the extra time to practice, work on skills and work out details in their system.
“These are all luxuries that don't usually happen in a regular camp season, when you're focused on who is going to make it, or who has to move out and what has to come in,” says Rotheisler. “Whereas your normal season, you may allow some early wrinkles to get ironed out in the regular season, our goal with the increased pre season ice and shortened season, is to be ready for opening night. We want to be peaking by then, and then again every day after that.”
Rotheisler doesn’t see the extra time to be ready for the season as a challenge to motivate players. He says life is about finding those challenges.
“They are excited to be at the rink. Excited to be doing something that eight months ago was abruptly ripped out of their hands,” he says. “Our guys are motivated.”
Hassen Himour, Calgary, Alta., CNHA Canucks U18AA - 26GP, 14 G 32 PTS- brings a tremendous amount of skill and offensive capabilities. He also makes sure that everyone is in good spirits on a day-to-day basis.
Liam Hennesey, Calgary, Alta., CBHA Blackhawks U18AA provides scoring and size (six-foot-two, 198 pounds), plays a style of game that can not only be translated to our level, but well beyond. He has a very deceptive playmaking ability as well. 24GP, 11G, 25 PTS.
Eric Van Loon, Calgary, Alta., centre, Calgary Canucks U18AA - he can move the puck up the ice quickly and has a great balance of structure and creativity. 26 GP, 14 G 30 PTS.
Nolan Wyatt, brings a physical presence, but can play and is skilled defensively, with a tricky release.
Zach Renner-Baxter - has proven he can find the back of the net in pretty much any scenario. Scored 18 goals in 32 games for Maple Leaf Athletic Club U18 AA.
Reece Nelson (Sherwood Park)and Tanner Funk (Swift Current) - graduates of Okanagan Hockey Academy, have been developed from some of the best coaches. They both provide very different kinds of skill and ability from each other, and are just as good in their own zone as they are in tight and on the rush and creatively. Nelson, forward- 36 GP, 3G, 19 PTS. Funk-forward- 36 GP, 4G, 11 PTS.
Easton Weasel Head - Lethbridge- “We are really excited about,” says Rotheisler. “Easton has great size, uses it exceptionally well and takes pride in owning tough areas of the ice, and like the others, is a 200 foot player, and is just a great guy to have around.”
Rotheisler says they will have a lot of skill on their defence.
Clayton Brown, Grande Prairie- brings a determined puck moving skill set, and sees the ice incredibly well. GP 28, 10 PTS.
Alex Litster, Red Deer, Red Deer Elks, has spent his entire career figuring out ways to generate a lot of offense from the point. 33GP, 22 G, 53 PTS.
Nicolas Cej - CBHA Rangers,has an uncanny ability to be in the way defensively all the time. Very tough to get around to a point that it's an art. 23GP 14 PTS.
Callum McGill, Penticton, B.C., Okanagan Hockey Academy - is a polished first-pass defenseman. 24GP, 17 PTS.
Zachary Augot, Whitecourt, Alta., Whitecourt Wolverines - is very good with staying with his opponent. 26GP, 19 PTS. “He is on you like glue, and lets you know and can also move the puck out of the zone at a high percentage.”
Blake Hiltermann, Calgary, Notre Dame Argos- is skilled well beyond his years, with a drive and commitment to the game reminiscent of a pro. 42GP, 5 PTS.
Harmon Hume, Rossland, Okanagan Hockey Academy - “He is a true professional, and rivals only Jaden Little in work ethic.”
Rotheisler says all his veterans are key.
Local talent Vin Jackson is a polished fast, forward that is not only a key to the identity of the team on the ice, but off as well. “Vin is constantly one of the hardest workers and is probably the main reason this offseason transition worked so well.”
Rotheisler describes Josh Dalquist as their Mark Giordano, the Calgary Flames captain.
Josh Dalquist (28) keeps an eye on the puck near his goalie.
“An absolute mainstay on the back end, can eat up minutes and be very tough to play against. Smart on the offensive line as well, he can anchor any offence and contribute on the rush just as well. Josh is also the driver of the demeanour and culture in our dressing room.
“There is nobody I trust more to bring home a win in this league more than Jaden Little,” Rotheisler continued. “Literally gives this team a chance to win every night.”
Little allows the Thunder Cats to build and get better every day.
“He works everyday like he is trying to make the team again,” says Rotheisler. “Amazing.”
The Thunder Cats structure will be key in games, but a willingness to make mistakes is part of it.
“We recruited defencemen that move the puck and like to get involved in the offence, and we want to subjectively encourage that and objectively support that on the ice,” he says. “The "style of play" question is often a question coaches will answer to sound smart, but the reality is our players will drive that bus and dictate the style of play we inevitably end up having.”