Jaden Little. Evan Gartner. Harmon Laser-Hume.
What do those names have in common?
If you said they all spent some time in between the pipes at the Johnny Bucyk Arena, you’d be correct. But that’s only half the story. All three goalies have also played their way into Jr. A after spending time in the Cats’ organization. What’s even more impressive is that all three debuts have spanned less than a year.
Jaden Little came to the Cats midway through his 19-year-old season finishing off the year with 10 games in a Cats uniform before the Covid-19 pandemic shut things down. Next season, he found himself in his final year of junior hockey eligibility in limbo, at the mercy of the Covid-19 Provincial Health Orders that were slowly whittling away what he thought was his last chance to play. Unlike most teams, the Creston Valley Thunder Cats stayed together all season practicing as normal, in hopes that a season could be salvaged. It was all that extra work when most everyone else had given up, that got him noticed. Once the BCHL decide to start up their bubble season, the Coquitlam Express came calling.
It’s not often you see a goalie make a Jr. A debut at 20 years old, which makes it even more remarkable that Jaden Little isn’t the only Thunder Cats goalie to start his BCHL career in his last year of junior hockey. Evan Gartner, 19 at the time, was a part of that Cats team that stuck together through the highs and (mostly) lows of the 2020-2021 hockey season. Gartner didn’t see any action in the brief 3-game season the KIJHL was able to put together before shutting down, but he was there from start to finish with Little and the rest of the team. He stayed to the end, put in work in the offseason, and came to camp ready to hit the ice – only, it wasn’t the ice in the Johnny he was skating on. Instead, he found himself being invited to the Cranbrook Bucks’ camp just two weeks after arriving in Creston. Ten games into the regular season Gartner has a 2-1 record for the Bucks including a recent shootout win over the powerhouse Langley Rivermen where he made 27 saves through 65 minutes and stopped all three Rivermen shootout attempts.
The Cats crease was crowded in that 20/21 season as GM and Head Coach Bill Rotheisler decided to keep three goalies on the roster. It was the perfect succession plan, 20-year-old Little and 19-year-old Gartner were great mentors for the up-and-coming 17-year-old rookie Harmon Laser-Hume. Despite the lack of game action, Laser-Hume was able to work alongside the two veteran goaltenders and learn some of the tricks of the trade, and boy, did it pay off. With Little aging out and Gartner finding his way onto the Bucks’ roster, there was no discussion as to who the Cats would put in the crease to start the 2021-2022 season. Laser-Hume started turning heads the second he stepped onto the ice for the Cats’ home opener pitching a 34-save shutout against the division rival Fernie Ghostriders. The 18-year-old would throw up gaudy numbers in his first seven games with the Cats including three shutouts in his first six, a 1.86 Goals Against Average, and a .925 Save Percentage. That performance caught the eye of the Nipawin Hawks in the SJHL.
The Thunder Cats program has always pushed players and tried to facilitate their success both on and off the ice. Current GM and Head Coach Bill Rotheisler and the rest of the TCats coaching staff strive to deliver the same principles that players will find at higher levels in hopes it helps them once they reach that next step. “Winning a championship is obviously important and that’s definitely our goal this year, but what we try and provide goes so much further than a trophy,” Rotheisler explained. “It’s about preparing these boys for what will come at them in all aspects of life and hockey gives us a chance to do that. The goal each year is to have a great group of guys that just so happen to be really good at hockey and I’ve been lucky that’s been the case over the past couple of years.”
Rotheisler has worked with all of Little, Gartner, and Laser-Hume at some point over the last two seasons with the Thunder Cats and he knew they all had the ability to take the next step. “I’m proud of the way they all stuck with the process. Jado [Little] and Garts [Gartner] didn’t take the normal path but they stayed hungry and it paid off, and Harm [Laser-Hume], it was just a matter of time before he was noticed. I’m just privileged to be able to say I know a couple of really good kids that are also really good at hockey.”