The Kimberley Dynamiters swept through the Creston Valley Thunder Cats in the second round of the KIJHL post-season, somewhat unexpectedly with many predicting a lengthy six- or seven-game battle. While the four-game series victory didn’t come easily with three contests requiring overtime, the quick dispatch provided the Eddie Mountain Division champs with some much-needed rest.
“The guys can be extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished so far,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Dynamiters. “Now we’ve got more to do.”
That begins Tuesday night (7 p.m.), as the Dynamiters welcome the Neil Murdoch Division-champion Beaver Valley Nitehawks to the Kimberley Civic Centre for Game 1 of the best-of-seven Kootenay Conference championship.
“It’s huge going into the conference title series with big rest,” said Nitros alternate captain Jared Marchi. “It’s huge for the guys that have bumps or bruises or anyone that’s tired. It’s really important to get the rest now that we need to be energized for [the conference final].”
The Dynamiters enjoyed five full days off after completing a sweep of the Thunder Cats on March 9.
For the Nitehawks, their Neil Murdoch Division final stretched one game and two days further, as they defeated the Grand Forks Border Bruins by a 4-0 margin in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series March 11.
Two days might not seem like a lot, but in the realm of playoff hockey, it can be all the difference.
“It’s super important just because of the injuries we have,” said Dynamiters goaltender Tyson Brouwer. “It’s really important we get as much rest as we can. It’s going to be a lengthy playoff run, I’m imagining.
“We can’t get satisfied, you can’t sit around and wait for your next opponent and think because you swept you’re going to walk into the next series.
“Beaver Valley is a good team… You’ve got to keep level-headed. Even though we won last year, it’s harder this year than it was last year. We have to keep our heads on straight and focus on the prize.”
Playoff time is an all-out war at any level of hockey and the KIJHL is no exception.
While injury disclosure comes at a minimum there’s plenty that can be observed.
Keenan Haase has missed two games to date with what appears to be an upper-body injury, though was able to skate in his team’s Game 4 victory over Creston.
Captain Jason Richter looks sore, but with what Bancks’ characterized as “the heart of an Olympian,” there is no holding the peppy forward out of the lineup.
Tanner Wit missed Game 4 in Creston due to illness and Austyn Moser missed time with an undisclosed injury during the first-round victory over Fernie.
On top of it all, James Rota is sporting a cast on his forearm/wrist, so it seems unlikely he will be available anytime soon.
The Nitros will need Haase and Richter, in particular, to be at as full strength as is possible if they’re to defeat a strong Nitehawks squad for the second consecutive season in the conference championship.
There’s no shortage of recent history between the two well-coached squads.
During the 2015 KIJHL post-season, the rivals met in the conference finale, with the Dynamiters booking a ticket to the KIJHL championship in five games.
During the 2015-16 regular season, the Nitros maintained an edge over the Nitehawks, claiming two victories in two games, though one required overtime.
What will transpire in 2016 remains to be seen, but there’s no question the Nitehawks should pose the Dynamiters toughest test to date.
Game 2 of the Kootenay Conference final is set for Wednesday (7 p.m.) at the Kimberley Civic Centre. From there, the series shifts to Fruitvale for Games 3 and 4, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Kootenay Conference ChampionshipBeaver Valley Nitehawks (2) vs. Kimberley Dynamiters (1)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
DynamitersMarchi (6G-2A-8pts) saved his best hockey of the series for the final two games at Creston, registered three goals and an assist to help push his club to a division crown. Eric Buckley (4-5-9) and Sawyer Hunt (1-8-9) continue to provide timely contributions at both ends of the rink, while Richter (2-6-8) never quits.
NitehawksVeterans Jace Weegar (2-7-9), Kyle Hope (6-2-8), Devin Nemes (4-4-8) and Tyler Hartman (3-5-8) provide experience punch up front, while rookies Keillan Olson (1-9-10) and Tyler Ghirardosi (3-6-9) fuel with youth.
DynamitersRookie Tyler Van Steinburg (0-1-1) returned to the lineup at the start of the second round after battling an upper-body injury and provided an immediate steady presence. Jordan Busch (1-6-7) continues to log massive minutes, while George Bertoia (1-1-2) and Justin Meier (1-3-4) remain tough customers.
NitehawksMcKoy Hauck (2-3-5) is back and as nasty as ever, having racked up 34 penalty minutes through seven games thus far. Veteran Lyle Frank (0-3-3) provides valuable overage experience while rookies Brett Roberts (1-3-4) and Jake Yuris (0-3-3) infuse youth.
DynamitersTyson Brouwer (8-1, 1.48 GAA, .949 SP, two shutouts) might be the most motivated man in the KIJHL. While teammates in front of him had difficulty with slow starts in Games 1, 2 and 4 of the division final, Brouwer was razor sharp as the Nitros found their legs.
NitehawksTallon Kramer (7-1, 1.35 GAA, .944 SP, two shutouts) took the drivers seat after veteran Brett Clark (1-0, 5.00 GAA, .884 SP) was injured in the first game of the post-season. Kramer has posted monstrous numbers during the playoff run to date, and was nothing short of spectacular when his team visited Kimberley in January.
KIJHL Kootenay Conference Championship scheduleGame 1 – Tuesday, March 15 at Kimberley Civic Centre (7 p.m.)Game 2 – Wednesday, March 16 at Kimberley Civic Centre (7 p.m.)Game 3 – Friday, March 18 at Beaver Valley Arena (Fruitvale, 8:30 p.m.)Game 4 – Saturday, March 19 at Beaver Valley Arena (Fruitvale, 8:30 p.m.)*Game 5 – Monday, March 21 at Kimberley Civic Centre (7 p.m.)*Game 6 – Tuesday, March 22 at Beaver Valley Arena (Fruitvale, 8 p.m.)*Game 7 – Thursday, March 24 at Kimberley Civic Centre (7 p.m.)
* = if necessary; all times listed are Mountain