Friday night, the Kimberley Dynamiters were served with a preview of what they might face in the opening round of the 2016 KIJHL post-season.
Facing the Eddie Mountain Division’s fourth-place Columbia Valley Rockies, the Dynamiters discovered a first-round match up with their rivals from Invermere might not be so easy.
Backstopped by a 34-save performance from goaltender Giovanni Sambrielaz, the upstart Rockies (23-17-0-0) knocked off the host Dynamiters (32-5-0-0) by a 5-2 margin in front of 580 fans at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“I think a lot of our players thought it was going to be easy,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters. “Since Christmas [the Rockies] are one of the toughest teams in the league, they’ve been beating everybody. It was hard to convince them of that, but I think they got their eyes opened and they certainly lost to a better team.
“They outworked us. I had a whole bunch of players who I thought weren’t prepared to play and compete. It showed.”
It had been a long time since the Rockies last beat their divisional rivals.
Not including an 8-1 Kimberley win that was defaulted Jan. 2, 2015, the last time the Rockies claimed two points from the Nitros was Oct. 24, 2014 — a 3-2 triumph in Invermere.
If the KIJHL playoffs were to begin today, the first-place Dynamiters would host the fourth-place Rockies in a seven-game, first-round matchup.
While the Dynamiters have a stranglehold on first place in the division, there’s a heated race burning between the second-place Creston Valley Thunder Cats (24-12-1-2), third-place Fernie Ghostriders (23-13-0-4) and Rockies.
On top of Sambrielaz’s efforts, the Rockies built a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes courtesy goals from Harrison Davies and Kellen Marchand.
Rockies defenceman Davin Burton tallied 34 seconds into the final period to give the visitors a 3-1 lead and while veteran Jared Marchi pulled the Nitros within one, it wasn’t enough.
Rockies forward Micheal Cardinal added a power-play goal, while Davies put his second of the night into an empty net to seal the victory.
Rookie forward James Farmer put up the first goal of the night for the Nitros.
Dynamiters goaltender Tyson Brouwer was the man of record Friday, giving up four goals on 27 shots.
The native of Lethbridge earned himself some redemption Saturday, leading his club to a bounce-back 4-0 shutout of the Nelson Leafs.
“If you want to win in the playoffs, you’ve got to get in the habit of not losing two in a row,” Bancks said.
Veteran Sawyer Hunt chipped in with a pair of goals, including the eventual game-winner on the power play during first-period action.
Defenceman Jordan Busch added a second-period tally and recently-acquired Tanner Wit rounded out the scoring with a third-period power-play effort.
“Tanner is the consummate team-type player,” Bancks said of Wit. “He does everything quite well.
“He’s just a good, all-around, does-everything-well type hockey player, which is really, really valuable in a playoff scenario.”
To say the least, Wit has been a welcome addition since coming to the Dynamiters from the Golden Rockets in exchange for future considerations late Jan. 7. In 33 KIJHL games this season, the native of Calgary has registered seven goals and 18 points.
While the 19-year-old Wit made his Dynamiters debut Jan. 8, another recently-acquired forward made his Kimberley debut Friday against Columbia Valley.
Franco Colapaolo, a 19-year-old native of Calgary, came to the Nitros from the Fort Frances Lakers of the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) Dec. 29, but had yet to see any game action.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward suited up for both games this weekend, registering one assist.
“You can tell he’s played good hockey and he’s been well coached,” Bancks said of Colapaolo. “He’s a very smart player, made some really solid plays and he understands the game really well.”
While the presence of a new name was easy to spot, perhaps easier to eye was the absence of a key component in the Nitros lineup.
Defenceman Justin Meier, 20, missed both outings as he served the remainder of a three-game suspension, which was incurred in a 6-4 win over the Golden Rockets Jan. 8.
“He’s not only a skilled defenceman, he’s also a player that everybody on the other team breathes a little sigh of relief when he’s not in the lineup,” Bancks said. “He plays a hard, heavy game. Anytime you lose a defenceman as good as Justin, that has a huge impact.”
Though the rough-and-tumble rearguard is expected to make his return to the lineup this Friday when the Rockies visit the Civic Centre for the second time in seven days, Bancks will still go ahead without the services of a key blueliner.
Forward-turned-defenceman Trey Doell suffered a broken thumb during Saturday’s win at Nelson and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
“We had just settled into having a really sound defensive group,” Bancks said. “It hurts us a bit, but it’s not a lot different than when Justin missed his three games due to suspension. Other plays are going to get more minutes.”
Bancks was particularly impressed with the play of Devon Langelaar in the absence of Meier, suggesting the 18-year-old Red Deer native played one of his best games of the year Saturday at Nelson.
The Dynamiters welcome the Columbia Valley Rockies back to the Kimberley Civic Centre this Friday for a 7 p.m. puck drop.