The Kimberley Dynamiters may have clinched a playoff spot and may be in control of the Eddie Mountain Division, but there’s no stopping until they lock in home-ice advantage for the duration of the KIJHL post-season.
The Dynamiters inched two steps closer towards that goal Friday night, doubling up the Columbia Vally Rockies by a 4-2 margin in KIJHL action at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“We owe it to our fans that support us so well that if it comes to a Game 5, 7 or whatever it may be, that it’s at home,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters. “It’s really important that we take care of trying to get home ice. Our support is probably the best in the KIJHL this year and we know how important and how much the fans helped us last year.
“That’s probably the biggest thing — respect our fan base and try to get that extra game at home.”
With 10 games remaining on the KIJHL regular-season slate, the Dynamiters (33-5-0-4) hold a 17-point advantage over the second-place Creston Valley Thunder Cats (25-13-1-2) in the Eddie Mountain Division.
Ultimately, the fate of the Nitros is within their own hands. All they need to do is collect five of a possible 20 points over the remaining 10 games to clinch first place in the division.
Within the Kootenay Conference, the Nitros are six points ahead of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks (30-9-2-2) for first place. Collecting 13 points over this next stretch will lock down the conference title for Kimberley.
Finally, on the league-wide front, the Dynamiters are six points ahead of the Osoyoos Coyotes (31-9-1-1) for the KIJHL regular-season crown. Register 15 points and the Nitros hold home-ice advantage for the duration of the post-season.
Of course, the numbers can and will change on a night-by-night basis, but reality remains the Dynamiters control their destiny when it comes to home-ice advantage.
Friday night, Bancks was pleased with the work ethic shown by his squad after the Rockies had given them a lesson the week prior, sending the Dynamiters to a 5-2 loss.
“We worked harder than we did the previous Friday and got rewarded for it,” Bancks said. “Overall, as a group, we played a fairly strong game.”
The Dynamiters built a 3-0 lead over the Rockies courtesy goals from Brodie Buhler, Keenan Haase and Jared Marchi before Colton Sandboe broke the bubble for the visitors midway through the third period.
“Brodie has hung in there, worked really hard and finished all his checks for the last two games, so we put him [in the top six] and he rewarded us with a goal,” Bancks said. “He deserved the chance to play there and we benefitted from it.”
Late in the proceedings, Trevor Van Steinburg — who was shifted back to the blue line with veteran Justin Meier missing due to a lower-body injury — registered his sixth of the season to restore the three-goal advantage and put the game out of reach for Columbia Valley.
“[Trevor] prefers to play forward, but he’s a team kid who will do whatever it takes for the team,” Bancks said. “It was nice to see him score from the backend.”
Rockies forward Luke Bellerose rounded out the scoring with 1:37 remaining in regulation.
In net, Dynamiters goaltender Tyson Brouwer steered aside 17 shots for his league-leading 26th win of the campaign. The victory established a new KIJHL career best for the 20-year-old University of Jamestown commit, who recorded 25 wins last season with the Nitros.
At the other end, Giovanni Sambrielaz stopped 23 of 27 shots for the Rockies.
With only one night’s worth of action over the weekend, the Dynamiters turn their focus to the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, who visit the Kimberley Civic Centre Tuesday night.
With only 10 games remaining on the schedule and home-ice advantage one of the targets for the final regular-season stretch run, Tuesday’s outing is of importance when it comes to setting the tone.
“My biggest concern right now, as a group, is we’re fairly inconsistent,” Bancks said. “The difference between the two Fridays [against Columbia Valley] was work ethic. You should never get outworked, in my opinion. That’s the one thing you can control. You want to be consistent with your work ethic. We need our younger guys to figure that out and be consistent. When they get the opportunity, take advantage of it and go with it like Brodie [Buhler] did the other night.”
The Thunder Cats enter Tuesday’s tilt fresh off a 5-0 shutout of the Golden Rockets Saturday night, but dropped a 7-2 decision to the Castlegar Rebels Friday evening.
The last time the Dynamiters and Thunder Cats met in their well-documented Eddie Mountain Division rivalry, it was Kimberley coming out with a decisive 6-1 win.
“We just skated extremely well,” Bancks said, recalling his team’s Jan. 5 win over Creston Valley. “Everybody coming back so hard [on the back check], we just kind of frustrated them, I think. We played extremely well defensively, and that’s how it goes — you play well defensively and you get good goaltending, good things will happen at the other end.
“I think we caught [the Thunder Cats] on a bad night for some reason. They just didn’t seem to have their usual fire.”
The Nitros, already without the services of captain Jason Richter (upper body) and Trey Doell (thumb), will now forge on without Justin Meier (lower body) and Austyn Moser, who will miss Tuesday’s contest due to personal family reasons. Questionable for the midweek tuneup is James Rota.
With no affiliate players available, Bancks might be forced to operate with a short bench.
“It will be a challenge with the players we have out,” Bancks said. “But that’s where players have to step up. If you’re going to have success in the playoffs, you’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders.
“It will be a chance for some people who may not have thought they had that big a role to have a much bigger role. They need to answer the bell.”
Puck drop between the Dynamiters and Thunder Cats is slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday evening at the Kimberley Civic Centre.