The Kimberley Dynamiters are going to the Kootenay Conference Finals for the fourth year in a row, second under head coach and general manager Derek Stuart’s tenure. This time it is an unfamiliar Conference Final opponent, the Nelson Leafs.
In 2015, 2016, and 2017 the Nitros played the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the Conference Finals, advancing twice.
“Our opponent is a team standing in the way of achieving our goal.” Stuart said. “[Nelson] is a very worthy opponent. They have proved all year long that they are the best team in the division. It doesn’t matter to us who our opponent is, in terms of our mental focus.”
The last time the Nelson Leafs and Nitros met in the playoffs was when both teams were a part of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League in 1998. The Nitros swept the Leafs 4-0. And Stuart and assistant coach Jeff Keiver were players. Amazing how much has changed in 20 years.
The Nitros have edged the Leafs 2-1 in the season series, however, the Leafs outscored the Nitro’s 5-4. The last time the two teams met, the Leafs shutout the Nitros 3-0. That shutout was the third of four in a row for Leafs goaltender Josh Williams who went on to set a KIJHL record for consecutive time without a goal allowed.
The Leafs do not have a single player with a point per game, as their scoring is spread out, and they are known for their suffocating defensive play. Leading the attack is Jack Karran with eight goals and two assists in 12 games; Nicholas Wihak also has 10 points in 12 games. On the back end, Michael LeNoury has chipped in offensively with 10 points too. Former Nitro, and now Leafs captain Sawyer Hunt has scored two goals and six assists in nine games.
“Nelson is probably the best defensive team in our conference.” Stuart said. “It’s not going to be easy, we are going to have to get to the net a lot better than we have in the first two rounds and get some ugly, greasy goals.”
The Dynamiters have been electric during the playoffs, and goaltender Cody Campbell has been solid between the pipes. Campbell’s 1.74 GAA and .931 SV% is top in the KIJHL this post season. The Nitro’s have five players averaging a point or more a game: Brock Palmer, Bryce McDonald, James Farmer, Matt Davies, and Mason Palaga. Farmer leads the team in goals with six, and Palmer in assists with 12.
Stuart said that the team will be watching a lot of video to understand Nelson’s habits, but then added, “We need to continue to play good team defence against Nelson, that is our number one priority. We need to make sure we keep our opponent under 30 shots.”
The series opens this Friday at the Kimberley Civic Centre at 7:30 p.m. with Game Two in Kimberley on Saturday.
MATCH STICKS: Ryan Keilty remains on the teams injury list. Affiliate players Jackson Bohan and Erik Delaire have joined the team now that their major-midget seasons have finished.