As much of a tradition as opening presents and celebrating the New Year, is the Christmas Classic series between the Kimberley Dynamiters and the Fernie Ghostriders. The Nitros swept the series in 2016, an achievement they have not had since 2011. The Nitros looked to continue the holiday success.
The Dynamiters opened the series with a kaboom, scoring two quick goals by the four minute mark. James Farmer opened the scoring with his 12th goal of the year. Brandt Bertoia followed him up with his 13th of the season.
“The first period was outstanding,” Head coach and general manager Derek Stuart said after the game. “We were very impressed with how good we were in the first after ten days off.”
The Ghostriders captain, Mitch Titus, began taking the game into his own hands in the middle period, cutting the Nitro’s lead in half. Chase Gedny would score seven minutes later to restore the Dynamiter’s two goal lead.
“The second was definitely a lull and a bit of a letdown. I felt we managed okay. It wasn’t terrible, but we managed the second pretty well.”
In the third, the game turned towards the intense. Titus scored his second of the game, and Broc Merkl, who played one game for the Nitros, built a brickwall in the crease. It seemed as if the more some of the nearly 1,000 fans jeered him, the more solid Merkl became.
“Their two best players were their two best players.” Stuart said of Titus and Merkl.
“Secretly you are happy [for Merkl], he is such a good guy, you are happy to see him have success. You just don’t want him to have so much success against your team.” Stuart said of watching the former Nitro, Merkl, stonewall his team. “It was tough to let him go, we have respect for him.”
Also synonymous with the Christmas Classic is a hockey fight, and Luke Recchi dropped the gloves with ‘Rider’s leading goal-scorer Ryan Partaker.
The game would remain knotted at 3-2, with the Nitros winning their seventh in a row, and making themselves one game closer to a sweep-repeat and being undefeated for the month of December.
Cody Campbell made 22 saves in his 16th win of the season, and sixth win in December. Ryan Keilty had two assists, his first points as a Nitro, and was named the Star of the Game.
For Stuart, he saw a couple of lines stand out, “Our defence core, all of them were really good, especially Risdon and Palaga. Upfront it was Farmer, Keilty, and Gedny, they were responsible for two of the goals.”
The home-and-home series shifted to Sparwood.
The Ghostriders took a page from the Dynamiters playbook and jumped out to an early lead with a power play goal.
“It was a reversal,” Stuart said, “they came out firing. We had to weather the storm in the first ten minutes.”
Bertoia would answer back for the Nitros to level out the scoring in the first.
After a low scoring first, the two teams would erupt for seven goals in the second period, with the Nitros scoring five of them.
Brock Palmer scored early in the period on the power play. The ‘Riders would score two in a row, but then it was all Nitros. Captain Brett Roberts, Gedny, Nicholas Ketola, and Cam Russell would all score.
The Nitros wouldn’t slow down, scoring another three in the third. Gedny, Ketola, and Farmer would give the team a commanding 9-4 win.
Eleven Nitros got at least one point, and four Dynamiters finished the game with three points: Ketola, Palmer, Russell, and Devon Langelaar, with Russell being named the Star of the Game.
Adam Andersen made 37 busy saves in the teams eighth win in a row.
“Everyone was going. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t contribute in some way. Everyone was contributing.”
For coach Stuart he is pleased with how is team performed, as he had reservations going into the teams 10-day holiday break riding a six-game win streak. The team is now on a eight-game winning streak.
“We need to stick to what is working.” Stuart said. “We need to try and get better every day in practice, and try to get better in every game we play.
“We need to get prepared for Grand Forks this Friday, and take it one game at a time.”
The Nitros take to the road this weekend, travelling to Grand Forks on Friday and then Nelson on Saturday before returning home to the Civic Centre for a Tuesday match.