Captain Jason Richter (above) returns in 2015-16 to lead the Kimberley Dynamiters as they look to defend their 2015 KIJHL championship.

Captain Jason Richter (above) returns in 2015-16 to lead the Kimberley Dynamiters as they look to defend their 2015 KIJHL championship.

KIJHL: Dynamiters poised to defend league title

Despite losing key pieces, a re-tooled Kimberley Dynamiters squad is set to defend its KIJHL championship

The Kimberley Dynamiters begin defense of their 2015 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League title this weekend and with a strong group of returners paired with a fresh crop of size and grit, the Nitros are poised to take another run at a KIJHL championship.

After an up-tempo training camp and no exhibition games, the Dynamiters head to Invermere to open the season Friday night against the Columbia Valley Rockies.

“We’re looking forward to everyone getting their first shift under their belt so they can get rid of the nerves, especially the new guys,” said Mike Reid, general manager and assistant coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters. “We’ve had a good week of practice going through our systems, conditioning and general flow.

“We really liked the tempo of our camp this year, so we almost replicated some exhibition games, we feel. With the veterans we have in the lineup, we’re just looking to get at it and defend our championship.”

The Dynamiters claimed last season’s KIJHL title with a six-game victory over the Kamloops Storm back in March. The triumph was Kimberley’s first KIJHL championship since the Kimberley Knights achieved the feat back in 1980.

A strong core of returning players powers a Dynamiters team that should challenge for the Eddie Mountain Division title in 2015-16 after finishing second (32-15-2-3, 69 points) behind the Fernie Ghostriders (37-11-1-3, 78) following the 2014-15 regular season.

Captain and defending KIJHL scoring champion Jason Richter returns along with goaltender and Playoff MVP Tyson Brouwer.

The blue-line sees the return of Jordan Busch, who was named the Eddie Mountain Division’s Top Defenceman last season.

Following Friday’s season-opener in Invermere, the Dynamiters host the Golden Rockets at 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre in the team’s only home game during the entire month of September.

“We want to thank our fans for the support they gave us last year all the way through the playoff run,” Reid said. “We’re hoping they fill the barn and we can give them another good game.

“The last game they got to see there was probably a classic — a double-overtime game against Kamloops. I don’t think we can replicate that energy, but we’re hoping for a good crowd and the new guys can get a feel for what our team and our community is all about.

“These two games are both divisional games, so we don’t want to give away four points really early in the season. They’re big games.”

After Saturday’s tilt against the Rockets, the Nitros finish September with six consecutive road games before finally returning to host the Revelstoke Grizzlies on Friday, Oct. 2 at the Kimberley Civic Centre.

Kimberley Dynamiters Season Preview Capsule:

Last season: 32-15-2-3; second in Eddie Mountain Division; won KIJHL championship by defeating Kamloops Storm in six games; advanced to Cyclone Taylor Cup championship game losing 6-5 to Campbell River Storm

Head coach: Jerry Bancks

Assistant coaches: Byron Garrels, Jeff Keiver, Mike Reid, Todd White

Key losses: F Coy Prevost (Eddie Mountain Division Rookie of the Year), F Braden Saretsky (18G, 29pts in 22 playoff games), F Keenan Haase (26G, 43pts in 51 regular season games), F Alex Rosolowsky, F Jordan Roy, D Jonas Gordon

The 20-year-olds: G Tyson Brouwer, D Jordan Busch, D Justin Meier, F Eric Buckley, F Jared Marchi

Key returnees: Top scorer and captain Jason Richter returns after leading KIJHL with 39 goals and 70 points… Jordan Busch, the Eddie Mountain Division’s Top Defenceman returns after registering 45 points in 48 games… Goaltender and Playoff MVP Tyson Brouwer returns after going 25-9-2 with two shutouts and a 2.37 goals-against average in 37 games last season…

New faces: D George Bertoia (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) replaces the grit lost with departure of D Tyler Kinnon… D Tristan Pagura, who had his 2014-15 campaign end early due to a shoulder injury, adds mobility to the blue-line… F Austyn Moser (6-foot, 170 pounds) replaces size and raw talent lost with departure of Haase… Fs James Rota and Korbyn Chabot will look to replace the offense lost with departures of Prevost and Saretsky…

Watch for: Speed and size. The Dynamiters had plenty of speed last season, but not quite as much size. While the speed remains, GM Mike Reid added plenty of size that came packaged with smooth skating. That should translate into the Dynamiters, once again, being one of the more dangerous offensive teams in the league after finishing third in the KIJHL with 226 goals-for in 2014-15.

Noteworthy: The 2014-15 Dynamiters squad moved six players on to a higher level of hockey. F Sawyer Hunt, F Coy Prevost, F Braden Saretsky and D Jonas Gordon moved to Junior ‘A’ with the Canmore Eagles (AJHL). F Keenan Haase is also off to Junior ‘A’ with the Weyburn Red Wings (SJHL), while F Jordan Roy remains with the Tri-City Americans (WHL).

Did you know: Including affiliate players, the Dynamiters roster contains 14 locally-grown players from the Cranbrook and Kimberley area.

The Prognosis: There’s no reason the Dynamiters shouldn’t be considered early favourites to win the Eddie Mountain Division. With an MVP-calibre goaltender, top defenceman and league scoring champ returning, the big guns are in place and the complimentary pieces should give this team the depth it needs to make a strong playoff push once again.

2015-16 Kimberley Dynamiters:

#1 – G Tyson Brouwer (Lethbridge, 1995)#3 – D Lucas Purdy (Kimberley, 1998)#5 – D Tristan Pagura (Kimberley, 1997)#9 – F Jesse Wallace (Kimberley, 1997)#10 – D Jordan Busch (Edmonton, 1995)#11 – D Justin Meier (Taber, Alta., 1995)#12 – F Eric Buckley (Penticton, 1995)#14 – F Marco Campanella (Kimberley, 1997)#15 – D/F Jared Marchi (Kimberley, 1995)#16 – F James Rota (Kimberley, 1998)#17 – F Austyn Moser (Taber, Alta., 1997)#18 – F James Farmer (Strathmore, Alta., 1997)#19 – F Graham Dugdale (Vulcan, Alta., 1997)#20 – D Tyler Van Steinburg (Kimberley, 1998)#21 – F Trevor Van Steinburg (Kimberley, 1997)#22 – D George Bertoia (Taber, Alta., 1998)#24 – F Justin Van Tetering (Red Deer, 1997)#26 – F Korbyn Chabot (Cranbrook, 1999)#31 – G Mitchell Traichevich (Dawson Creek, 1997)#40 – F Jason Richter (Cranbrook, 1996)