The Dynamiters closed out their regular season with two emphatic wins on home ice, battling back from a recent streak of losses and emerging imbued with confidence and ready to tackle their first playoff series against the Golden Rockets.
On Friday the Nitros took on the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, who beat them 4-3 in their last two games. The Dynamiters were able to turn the tables and take a 4-2 win, with goals from Tyler Lindal, Isaac Sommer, Cash Regan and Jake Watson.
Saturday night’s game began with a very special tribute from one local legend to another. Jerry Bancks, former Dynamiters head coach and integral figure in Kootenay hockey, took to the ice to honour Bert Banks who passed away on December 8, 2022 after a lifetime of dedication to the City of Kimberley and to the Dynamiters.
Bancks said as soon as Banks passed, his first thought was that they needed to honour him before a game, but needed to wait until his wife Bev could “summon up the courage to come to a game without her soul mate.”
“How appropriate it is on fan appreciation night, as Bert and Bev were fans of the century,” Bancks said, accompanied on the ice by much of Banks family and the entire Dynamiters team. Bev was seated in the stands.
The moving tribute concluded with Bancks asking the team to play their best, and it set the stage for one of the team’s best, most exciting games of the season.
“I think a lot of their motivation came from the Burt Banks tribute at the start of the game,” said head coach, general manager Derek Stuart. “I think just hearing all the stuff that Jerry Bancks had to say about him and how important and integral he was to this town and this hockey organization, was a big motivator.
“I know it was for the coaches to hear that, we kind of wanted to get out there and play ourselves, but other than that just focusing back on our actions, but this win was definitely for Burt Banks.”
The Nitros hadn’t played Columbia Valley since their loss to them on Jan. 20, the first in a series of consecutive losses.
The Rockies opened the scoring less than a minute into the first and held the lead for almost the duration of the period, until team captain Jayden Kostiuk scored with less than a minute remaining. As the night was also a fundraiser for the Food Bank, fans were eagerly awaiting this first goal to throw their socks and toques onto the ice, and a total of three bins worth were collected.
On top of that, $980 in cash and $1026 worth of food donations were collected, roughly equivalent to what the Food Bank expects to get in one third of a month, according to manager Barry Cummins.
“We appreciate any and every type of donation like that, our community here is so great at helping us, it’s unbelievable,” Cummins said. “We greatly appreciate it.”
Cash Regan then gave the team their first lead of the game early in the second, continuing his recent hot streak. Columbia Valley countered back with two more of their own and the Nitros went into the third trailing by one.
The game thus far had been a rowdy one, with 22 individual penalties given in the first two periods alone as spirits ran high on both teams.
Things were looking dire for the Dynamiters, when Kade Leskosky drove home the crucial equalizer on the power play, and after some consistent team play, the game was headed to overtime.
After numerous close calls and nail-biting moments, Leskosky took a pass from Kostiuk and put it in the back of the net 3.11 into overtime, with the crowd erupting as his teammates swarmed him at the boards to celebrate.
“It’s pretty cool, I’ve never scored an overtime goal before, so it was definitely special,” Leskosky said after the game. “But I just love that group of guys in there, so it’s really special to get that win going into playoffs.”
Leskosky added Bancks’ tribute at the beginning of the game certainly was a motivating factor in their stellar performance that night.
“Obviously the game meant nothing in the standings, but it might have been one of the most important games of the year,” he said. “We have been through a tough stretch, to get some momentum like that and bond together especially on a special night like that, when you lose such a special fan like that, it’s really nice to get the win.”
Stuart said that while it was great to see Kade get those game-winning goals, he was more impressed with his actions away from the puck: working hard, getting on the forecheck and using his size.
Another key player was goaltender Matt Fleet, who has had to step up in a big way since starting goalie Trystan Self’s injury.
“It’s really tough to see Selfie go down for sure,” Fleet said. “He’s a really good goalie and probably the best goalie partner I’ve ever had so it’s tough to see him go down, but as far as myself, I feel like I’ve stepped up pretty well and I’m just trying to give the boys the opportunity to win every night.
“If I have my best stuff then I have my best stuff and if I don’t just battle, battle battle, that’s all I can do and just try and give them a chance to win, because we’ve got a good enough hockey club in there where we can win games.”
Fleet said he feels like the team is excited and ready to get their playoff series with Golden started.
“I think it’s really big for morale, we haven’t played our best hockey lately, but to get two wins yesterday and today, and to win in the fashion that we did today as well was big for us,” he said.
“We’re very fortunate that he’s taken a big step, where last year as a rookie he was clearly our backup, this year I think he could start on a lot of hockey teams,” Stuart said of Fleet. “He’s a good goalie and he’s proven it the last three weeks that Trystan’s been out, but when we get Trystan back we’ll have a tough decision to make and that’s Matt’s job to make things tough on the coaches and he’s done a fantastic job in net for us.”
Bancks came down into the locker room after the game to talk to the team and Stuart said he thanked the guys for giving their best effort, playing hard and playing the right way on a night where they honoured someone who was so important to the town and to the team.
The playoffs kick off on Friday, Feb. 17 and Saturday, Feb. 18 with Golden on Kimberley ice. The next two games will be in Golden on Tuesday Feb. 21 and Wednesday, Feb. 22.
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