The Nelson Leafs did the Kimberley Dynamiters a favour earlier this week as they knocked off the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, all but ensuring the Nitros of the KIJHL’s Kootenay Conference title.
What that equates to is home-ice advantage for the opening three rounds of the KIJHL post-season. All that remains for the Dynamiters (37-7-0-4) is to clinch the KIJHL’s overall league title, but that race remains a tight one with the Osoyoos Coyotes (36-9-1-1).
The Dynamiters will get an opportunity to inch closer to that goal this weekend when they visit the Spokane Braves (8-35-0-4) Friday before returning home to host the Fernie Ghostriders (26-17-0-4) Saturday (7 p.m.) at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
Head coach Jerry Bancks challenged his squad following a 4-2 home loss to the Ghostriders last Friday. He said the focus and challenge remains the same heading into the second last weekend of the regular season.
“If I’m one of the younger players…and I see older guys kind of putting in half an effort, but still getting out for every power play, it sends a negative message,” Bancks said. “They get confused as to what expectations are and I think we’ve had a bit of that lately.”
The Dynamiters are expected to be without forward Austyn Moser this weekend, who Bancks said will serve a two-game suspension for a checking-from-behind major penalty incurred Monday at Fernie.
That’s tough news for a team already short-staffed due to injuries as captain Jason Richter (upper body, week to week) remains on the shelf, along with forward-turned-defenceman Trey Doell (hand).
Doell skated this week and is close to a return, but remains day to day.
While he was in the lineup in Friday’s 4-2 loss to Fernie, defenceman Justin Meier didn’t see much ice time and was then shutdown for Saturday’s double-overtime win at Beaver Valley and Monday’s 2-0 road win over the Ghostriders.
The rugged rearguard has been dealing with a lower body injury for some time now and playing at what Bancks’ characterized as 80 per cent just hasn’t worked.
“It’s the same as with Richter,” Bancks said. “I’d like to get [Meier] to 100 per cent. We tried him at 80 per cent and it didn’t work. It’s up to physio when he’s ready to go again and we want to make sure we’re cautious.”
Richter and Meier will be critical to any post-season push by the Dynamiters, which very well could begin with a seven-game, all-out war with the Ghostriders in the first round.
Heading into the weekend, Fernie remains in third place in the Eddie Mountain Division, but the Columbia Valley Rockies (28-20-0-0) have pulled into a tie with the Ghostriders as each team sits with 56 points.
With five games remaining on their slate, the Ghostriders have one game in hand on the Rockies, which plays into their favour as they try to avoid a first-round matchup with the high-powered Nitros.
Unfortunately for Fernie, those five games see them face Kimberley twice, along with the Neil Murdoch Division-champion Nitehawks (31-10-3-3), making for tough sledding heading towards the post-season.
What could determine the first-round matchup for the Dynamiters comes Friday night when the Rockies visit Fernie.
Should the Rockies bypass the Ghostriders, KIJHL fans in the East Kootenay will be privy to a fierce Fernie-Kimberley first-round matchup.
To top it all off, the Dynamiters and Ghostriders face one another for good measure to close out the regular season, meeting once more Saturday, Feb. 20 (7:30 p.m.) at the Fernie Memorial Arena.