Thomas Cankovic and Grant Iles were both admittedly looking for a change of scenery.
The Creston Valley Thunder Cats had kept tabs on both Whistlerite hockey players for a little while now, and in the midst of a season where they could mount a serious challenge in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), acquired both from their respective clubs in recent weeks.
The first to come over was Cankovic, who was second in scoring for the last-place Princeton Posse. The 18-year-old was last season's Posse rookie of the year, but sought a fresh start and Creston Valley was high on his list. He was traded for fellow forward Austin Dean on Dec. 1.
Iles was acquired less than a week later from the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League's Comox Valley Glacier Kings. Iles, 19, served as the team captain, but being in his third season on the island, was interested in plying his trade someplace new.
Cankovic, who has an assist in three games after the trade and posted 16 points with Princeton, said the transition has been smooth.
"It's been good. There's a lot of talent up front," he said. "I play pretty similar. It's a really talented team, so it's a little easier to play with."
Admittedly, he was thrilled when he discovered he'd be joining the Thunder Cats, who sit second behind the league-leading Kimberley Dynamiters in the Eddie Mountain Division with an 18-8-3 record.
"It's where I had in mind (for) where I wanted to go," he said.
Iles, who also has an assist in his two games in Creston, had six goals and 20 points before the deal. He, too, is settling into life back on the mainland.
"I've got no complaints here. It's good hockey, a great town," he said. "I was pretty excited. I got traded after Tom got traded here so when I knew I was going with him, it made it all make sense and it was pretty awesome."
Though Iles was part of a strong Comox Valley squad last year, the Glacier Kings were mired in a lengthy slump in which they'd won just three games since the start of November. While he said he'll have to make a few minor tweaks to his game, Iles added he's ready and willing to take on the challenge.
"It was a little bit of a situation that I was looking to leave (in Comox Valley). I'd spent two-and-a-half years there and it was time for me to get a fresh start with hockey and go somewhere else," Iles said, adding he felt rejuvenated by the new situation. "I just want to be a workhorse, take face-offs, put up a couple points here and there and do what I can do.
"It's a little bit of an adjustment, a little more structure."
Both Cankovic and Iles said they're eager to help their new team, with both getting a sense, even early on, they could be among a group that pushes for the Thunder Cats' first league title.
Thunder Cats head coach and general manager Jeff Dubois said bringing in the pair of Whistler locals essentially in one fell swoop wasn't part of any planned package — it was just a happy coincidence. One of the other personnel moves the team made recently was to bring in former Posse coach Bill Rotheisler as an associate coach, and one of his first actions was to recommend Cankovic.
"It's kind of funny that we ended up with both of them. That wasn't the master plan going in. They were both guys that we were interested in individually," Dubois said. "We were looking to add more depth and skill up front and we happened to have a forward (Princeton) was interested in, so that was a deal that came together pretty easily."Grant, we'd made some calls about him a little earlier in the season. We wanted to bring in a guy who's gritty and skilled and good on face-offs.
"That trade came together a few days after the trade for Thomas totally separately. It just so happened we ended up with two guys who are really good friends and grew up together."
Dubois said both are tasked with different roles for the team, with Iles slotting alongside a pair of veterans while the versatile Cankovic has slid up and down the depth chart. He didn't rule out a double-punch from the Sea to Sky, though.
"I know there's a good chemistry between them, obviously being good friends and having played together for a long time, I wouldn't be surprised if there's an opportunity to do that at some point here," he said.
While Dubois said he's pleased with the captains and alternates the team put in place before the season, dealing for a pair of players who were part of their respective clubs' leadership groups is a bonus, particularly in Iles' case.
"Grant is a guy who plays his best hockey in the playoffs," Dubois said. "He's that style of guy in terms of his work ethic and grit. He's a real warrior, so the leadership component there was definitely a plus."
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