The Christmas Classic is a beloved community tradition going back to 2004 that sees the Kimberley Dynamiters take on their rivals the Fernie Ghostriders for back-to-back games. After COVID cancelled one year and reduced last year’s attendance to 50 per cent, the true spirit of this event was back in full force and the Dynamiters pulled off two wins to sold-out crowds.
“Last night and tonight, that’s the atmosphere that makes these games special,” reflected Dynamiters head coach Derek Stuart following the Dynamiters 2-0 win at the Civic Centre on Thursday, Dec. 29, where 1575 fans filled the stands.
The first of the two games was in Fernie the night before, and the Dynamiters pulled off a 4-1 win in front of a crowd of 1140.
“It was almost a full sellout for warm-ups [in Fernie], it was pretty cool,” Stuart said. “I thought last night we started a little slow, then found our feet and I thought we were really physical. We won the physical battle last night for sure in their rink and again tonight.”
Fernie’s one goal of the night came within the first two minutes of the first period from Kort Kisinger on the power play. Cam Reid answered back, again on the power play, to tie things up. Cash Regan and Ethan Bloomquist picked up a goal a piece in the second and Kade Leskosky scored his seventeenth of the year to cap things off in the third.
Thursday’s game began a little slower, and was scoreless through the first period with a fairly even spread of shots on goal for the two rivals.
“I thought both teams were a little more tired tonight for sure, but that happens, they had ten days off and then you’re right back at it for these intense games,” Stuart explained. “I thought last night we won the physical battle for sure in the small rink and tonight I thought we were faster than them and won the speed game.”
Matt Saretsky opened the scoring in the third with a big goal on the power play, assisted by Reid and Campbell Mclean. It was his fifth goal of the season.
“Oh man it felt great,” Saretsky said. “I mean, I haven’t scored in a while, so to get the monkey off the back and especially in front of a crowd like that, it was exciting.
“It’s great, last year we had a lot of fans, but we had restrictions, so to have 100 per cent capacity was awesome. I’ve never played in front of anybody like that.”
Saretsky wasn’t alone in having never played in front of a crowd that large and engaged, that was a new experience for many of the players on both teams.
“Last night there was some guys who were pretty wide-eyed for the first few shifts, they couldn’t believe how many people were there,” Stuart said. “And then again tonight, it was a big help, it definitely helped the team out for sure.”
Kade Leskosky has had no shortage of goals this season, and managed to nab number 18 with a minute and a half left in the second.
One of the things the Dynamiters have been working on this season is not taking their foot off the gas when they lead after the first two periods. Despite the Ghostriders out-shooting them and giving it everything they had in the third, the Dynamiters managed to keep it scoreless.
“I think it’s just a mental thing,” Stuart explained. “Sometimes we’ve had a lot of success in the first 40 minutes and then kind of thought it was just going to happen in the third, but I thought tonight I really liked their work ethic and how they stuck with it in the third.”
Another key factor to the Dynamiters’ success was goalie Trystan Self, who stopped all 33 of Fernie’s shots and was named player of the game.
“There’s no easy games in our division, you can look at all five teams in our division, they’re really strong, and Trystan was great,” Stuart said. He needed a bounce-back game, it wasn’t his fault we lost to Grand Forks, he admits he’d like a couple of goals back from the last game before the break, but he was fantastic tonight, he was probably the difference in the game.”
Last year Self was named Team MVP and top Goaltender for both the Eddie Mountain Division and the entire KIJHL and his performance at the Christmas Classic demonstrated that he’s still got it.
“It feels great, the boys definitely bailed me out of a couple opportunities and saved me, it feels great to be back and ready to go for the rest of the year,” Self said. “I struggled right before the Christmas break but the boys seem to be going and I feel like I’m going after tonight, so definitely ready for the second half.”
The Ghostriders frustration began to show in the third as well, and it was a very physical game, but Saretsky said the Dynamiters kept their heads down and used that to their advantage.
“That’s when we pounce on them and take our opportunities,” he said. “We were just told to not get too high, not get too low. So we just tried to stay calm and we can and usually that works out for us, we tire out the other team.”
These games not only mattered in terms of standings, the points the Nitros earned put them in a tie for first in the division at 44 points with the Columbia Valley Rockies, but they have become a time-honoured tradition for both towns, a chance for friends and family to connect and have a great night together.
As Saretsky put it, “It’s everything. “We’re always representing the Dynamiters no matter where we are, they’re huge to us and we wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
The Kimberley Dynamiters next take on the Golden Rockets on Tuesday, Jan. 3 and have their next home game on Friday, Jan. 6 against the Castlegar Rebels.