The Thunder Cats will be heading over to the Neil Murdoch division for the 2022 Teck Cup playoffs to face the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the first round. This change comes after the league made the decision to modify its initial plan for the Neil Murdoch wildcard spot after looking at the toll it would take on the Golden Rockets and Nitehawks to commute such a long way in the first round. All impacted teams were asked their opinion and it was ultimately decided that this way made the most sense.
Originally, the fifth-place Eddie Mountain team (Golden) and fourth place Neil Murdoch team would be ranked by points, with the highest seed being slotted into the final playoff spot on the Neil Murdoch side. The KIJHL released a statement on this decision earlier in the week which featured this quote by Commissioner Jeff Dubois.
“While it was not our intention to deviate from the playoff format that was announced in October, it had become increasingly likely over the past two months that it could produce a first-round series involving significant travel and expense between a West Kootenays-based team and the Golden Rockets, who represent the furthest possible conference opponent,” says Commissioner Jeff Dubois. “In investigating potential alternatives, there became a clear consensus amongst all of our Kootenay Conference teams, including Golden and Creston Valley, that making this change was the best option competitively and financially for all participating teams from both divisions.”
This change poses a new challenge for the Thunder Cats – the potential for 7 straight games against an opponent who they are unable to scout as intensively as a usual Eddie Mountain division rival. For comparison, in years with a normal schedule (covid permitting) seven regular-season games against a Neil Murdoch team could span up to three years. Something that’s not lost on Cats GM and Head Coach Bill Rotheisler.
“It’s a team we see less so we have much less pre-scouting on so It’s going to allow us to probably focus more on our own game.”
Scouting aside, Rotheisler has an idea of what to expect from the new match up and it’s not something he’ll take lightly.
“The Eddie Mountain side is physical, good quality hockey, not much space out there and it’s tough to play against. Coming into Beaver Valley, they’re a younger team they’re skilled, they’re getting better at a higher pace and you never know what they’re going to be like come playoffs. Terry [Jones] has been around for a long time, he knows how to coach, and if we come in and think that because it’s a different division and a different team that we’re not used to seeing that it’s going to be any easier, then we’re in trouble.”
The Cats still have the potential to overtake the Nitehawks for second in the division so home ice hasn’t been decided, but the playoffs will start on February 22nd.