Eric Buckley emerged from the Kimberley Dynamiters dressing room with a big grin on his face Saturday night and the first thing he said was, “Don’t ask me about missing the empty net.”
Even though the 5-foot-9 native of Penticton whiffed with an opportunity to ice a Game 5 victory for the Dynamiters, he made up for it with a tremendous effort to keep the Fernie Ghostriders locked in their own territory during the final 60 seconds of a 2-1 Nitros victory.
“Other than missing the net, keep [the puck] low and try to pin it — waste as much time,” Buckley said of what was going through his mind on the final shift. “We were winning and needed to waste as much time as we could.
“I don’t really say a lot out there unless someone says something to me. I play hard, finish all my checks and be not fun to play against.”
The pesky 19-year-old succeeded with all of that as the Kimberley Dynamiters took a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Eddie Mountain Division final against the Fernie Ghostriders Saturday night.
“He’s been key for us all season long,” Dynamiters coach Jerry Bancks said of Buckley Saturday. “He’s a tiny little guy that plays with a lot of courage and I’ll be honest, over the years, he’s made some enemies but this year he’s been a different player.
“He still goes to the hard spots. He’s hard to move from the front of the net for as small as he is. He’s never afraid to go first on pucks and wins a lot of puck battles. This year, he’s been everything we’ve asked of him. He’s tried to be more disciplined, take less foolish penalties and he’s done a great job of it.”
Backed by goaltender Tyson Brouwer’s return from injury, the Dynamiters tied the series 2-2 in Game 4 with an overtime victory Friday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“It’s outstanding to get him back. He’s a winner,” Bancks said. “Tyson’s a winner on and off the ice. That’s all I really need to say. He worked hard to get himself back and had a good medical team looking after him. But he still had to do it. He wasn’t 100 per cent, but he still wants to be there for the guys and that’s outstanding.”
Brouwer — who missed Games 2 and 3 due to a lower-body injury — turned in a 26-save effort to guide his team to victory Friday. Saturday was more of the same from the Lethbridge native, as he steered aside 31 shots.
“Credit to Brouwer,” Fernie Ghostriders head coach and general manager Craig Mohr told Sara Moutlon of the Fernie Free Press Saturday. “He played fantastic [Saturday]. We hit a couple posts — it didn’t go in.”
Braden Saretsky played the role of the hero Friday, as he scored early in the first overtime period to give the Dynamiters a 2-1 triumph.
“It all starts with great goaltending and just a good solid effort from everybody,” Bancks said. “We had a few guys going [Friday] night, but [Saturday] I thought we had everybody play well. That was the difference — more of a team effort [Saturday]. That’s the key.
“It’s hard. A lot of these kids have never been through this before. You don’t play seven-game series in bantam and minor hockey growing up. Because we’ve got a younger team, it’s the first kick at the cat for a lot of our guys.”
Captain Jason Richter opened the scoring 6:30 into the festivities Saturday, knocking a bouncing puck past Ghostriders goaltender Jeff Orser. Coy Prevost extended the lead with a rebound effort midway through the second period.
Ghostriders forward Aaron Neufeld got his team on the board, cutting the Dynamiters lead to one with a power-play tally early in the third period.
The rest of the night was an anxious one as the two teams exchanged opportunities, but the 2-1 score held.
“The way we played in the second period and the third period [Saturday], truth be told, that’s the best we’ve played in the series,” Mohr said. “We were good. That third period, second period, we were finally getting after them.
“I was really happy with how we played. If we play like that, we’ll be back here on Tuesday [for Game 7]. We banged them around, again, hard tonight. [The puck] just didn’t go in…But I’m actually feeling pretty good. Honestly, I am.
“We’re starting to play our game now. It’s not over yet. It’s not over yet. I’ve just got a feeling. We all knew it was going to go six or seven [games].”
Having won two consecutive games, the Dynamiters hold a 3-2 series lead on the Ghostriders and have an opportunity to finish out the series in Game 6 Monday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“It’s written on our board in [the dressing room] — the only shift that matters is your next one,” Bancks said. “That’s the only one that matters. Whatever happens on Monday is whatever happens. You’ve just got to play. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.”
Should the Ghostriders claim a victory Monday, the series returns to the Fernie Memorial Arena for a seventh and deciding game Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve been battling for five games now,” Fernie defenceman Travis Thomsen told Moulton. “They’re a tough team. We’re a good team, too. We’ve just got to work hard.”