The Kimberley Dynamiters open the KIJHL championship Saturday against the Kamloops Storm.

The Kimberley Dynamiters open the KIJHL championship Saturday against the Kamloops Storm.

KIJHL: Final frontier

Kimberley Dynamiters & Kamloops Storm set for best-of-seven KIJHL championship

The Kimberley Dynamiters and Kamloops Storm may not have seen one another this season, but with a best-of-seven KIJHL championship on the line, it won’t take long for them to get acquainted.

“They’re going to be a good skating team. They look big, probably bigger than us,” said Dynamiters head coach Jerry Bancks Thursday afternoon. “But I’m not going to worry too much about them. I’m more concerned about making sure our guys are prepared to go and that’s what we’ll work on.”

The Storm leave Kamloops Friday morning, making the trek to Kimberley to open the KIJHL championship. Game 1 is set for Saturday at the Kimberley Civic Centre at 7 p.m.

“We’re very similar to what Kimberley provides,” said Storm general manager Barry Dewar over the phone from Kamloops Thursday. “From what we’ve seen on video, it looks like [the Dynamiters] have speed, pretty good goaltending and pretty good defense. That’s our strength as well.

“We’ve got a lot of speed up front and we’re very young…It becomes a matter of who shows up to play, which the case always in the KIJHL. They’re all kids. Sometimes they show up and they’re awesome. Sometimes they don’t show up and they’re not so good.

“That can be said for my team and any team in the league, including the Dynamiters.”

Both the Dynamiters and Storm have had to bull through considerable opponents to get to this point, meaning fans in both Kimberley and Kamloops should be in for an electrifying championship series.

The Nitros advanced to the KIJHL championship by first dispatching the Creston Valley Thunder Cats in a five-game Eddie Mountain Division semifinal. From there, the Dynamiters dumped the Fernie Ghostriders in a six-game Eddie Mountain Division finale.

Lastly, thet Kimberley Dynamiters worked their way past the Beaver Valley Nitehawks — KIJHL’s defending champions — to claim the Kootenay Conference championship.

As for the Storm, their progression to the KIHJL championship is equally impressive.

In their Doug Birks Division semifinal, the Storm earned a 4-1 series victory over the Sicamous Eagles. Kamloops then claimed their divisional title by knocking the 100 Mile House Wranglers out of contention in another five-game series.

Finally, the Storm bounced the KIJHL regular-season champion Osoyoos Coyotes in five games to claim the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference championship.

And here we are.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Dewar said. “The division that we’re in is so balanced, so close and so motivated that you lose games in the regular season that, perhaps, in another division we wouldn’t have lost.

“We’ve played extremely well in almost every game. Our biggest difficulty in the beginning was probably goaltending. We went through a couple and we now have a goaltender who seems to be playing extremely well and seems to be a real good acquisition. That’s part of our makeup. We haven’t made any changes other than him.”

“Him” being Jacob Mullen, acquired by the Storm from the Grand Forks Border Bruins at the KIJHL trade deadline in January.

In 11 regular-season games following his acquisition, the 6-foot-4 native of Coeur D’Alene, Id., went 9-2-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average (GAA) and 0.925 save percentage.

With the post-season rolling around, Mullen’s numbers have been equally impressive. The 20-year-old puck-stopper is 9-2-0 through the playoffs, with a 2.15 GAA and 0.934 SP, nearly identical numbers to what he registered during his regular season in Kamloops.

At the other end of the rink, the presence of Tyson Brouwer (12-2-0, 1.52 GAA, 0.948 SP) adds up to make for what should be, once again, a stellar goaltending duel.

It’s no secret the 19-year-old native of Lethbridge has been instrumental to his team’s post-season success.

The 5-foot-11 netminder faced an average of 39 shots through the five-game battle with Beaver Valley, turning aside an average of 36.4 attempts per game.

Though the goaltending battle is easy eye candy for media and fans alike, just as much credit needs to be lent to the less-glamourous battles engaged in by the likes of players such as Jason Richter, Ian Chrystal and Felix Larouche.

Richter led the KIJHL in scoring during the regular season and though he continues to produce in the post-season, his greatest performance has come when taking care of business in his own end of the rink.

“He’s the ultimate captain. He plays our systems extremely well,” Bancks said. “He’s very responsible in his own zone. He’ll do whatever it takes for the team to win. I’m sure we probably lead the league in shot-blocking and that all stems from his leadership.

“He finishes every check. He’s the one player I know that is going to finish every check…He’s just a leader. If you ever watch a line change, when he comes off the ice he skates faster than some guys do when they’ve got a breakaway.

“Those are the little things that make a difference and that’s why we’ve been successful. We do a lot of the little things as good as or better than everybody we’ve played and that comes from his leadership.”

For the Storm, Chrystal led his club in regular season scoring and has carried on an important leadership role throughout the post-season.

Chrystal and Larouche, both 20-year-old veterans, were a part of the Storm team that went to the 2014 KIJHL championship, only to fall to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

“Their desire to show that last year we should have won, is something that will hold us up when things get tough,” Dewar said. “Those guys, Chrystal and Larouche, are awesome in the room.”

It would be oversight to go without mentioning the red-hot scoring of Nitros forward Braden Saretsky (13-6-19) and Coy Prevost (10-7-17) as well as Storm forwards Mitch Friesen (9-5-14), Ryan Keis (6-6-12) and Bobby Kashuba (3-9-12).

With character kids lining up on both sides of the series, there will be no shortage of storylines when the puck finally drops Saturday night at the Kimberley Civic. Both sides are looking forward to raucous crowds both in Kimberley and back on McArthur Island in Kamloops.

“If you want a champion, tell your people in Kimberley and Cranbrook and everywhere else to go out and support them,” Dewar said. “You need to fill that barn.”

To this point, the Kimberley Civic Centre has averaged 830 fans in attendance through eight home playoff games, peaking with 1,007 fans for Game 6 of the second-round series with the Fernie Ghostriders.

“One of the keys to our success is the pride that the players feel for what the community does for us and the number of people that show up at our games,” Bancks said. “I’d love to see us well up over 1,000 people Saturday night. We need their help. It’s something that certainly does help our guys.

“You hear about it in the room all the time when they’re heading out about how they want to play for the crowd.”

Following Games 1 and 2 in Kimberley, the series shifts back to Kamloops for Games 3 and 4 (Tuesday and Wednesday). If necessary, the teams return to Kimberley for Game 5 on March 27.