More than one name was batted around conversations in the Kootenays and Interior British Columbia when it came to the most valuable player of the 2015 KIJHL post-season.
At the end of it all, the KIJHL has yet to name a league MVP for post-season play, but the Kimberley Dynamiters have.
Goaltender Tyson Brouwer was deservingly named the Nitros 2015 Playoff MVP during a celebration at the Kimberley Civic Centre Monday night.
“I said at our banquet, which was before the playoffs started, that our goaltenders will be the MVP of the playoffs and that’s what will win us a championship,” said Kimberley Dynamiters head coach Jerry Bancks moments after his team’s victory in Game 6 of the KIJHL final. “I threw it on him because I know he can deal with it.
“He’s such a great kid on and off the ice. Good things happen to good people and he’s a great kid. He spends a lot of time on the ice with school kids and minor hockey teams and he’s there to help out whenever need be. He’s a winner and he battles hard and he competes.
“After the first period, he went in and told the guys, ‘Do you have any idea how bad I want this?’ It’s pretty cool. He’s a phenomenal goaltender.”
There’s little debating Brouwer’s credentials as “phenomenal.”
The 19-year-old native of Lethbridge, Alta., stood tall — much taller than his generous listing of 5-foot-11 — in guiding the Kimberley to the town’s first KIJHL championship since the 1980 Kimberley Knights accomplished the task 35 years ago.
Brouwer went 16-4 through 20 playoff games as he played all but 139 minutes between the pipes for the Nitros, posting a 1.78 goals-against average and 0.940 save percentage (SP) with two shutouts.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” Brouwer said Monday afternoon in between signing autographs for adoring fans on the concourse of the Kimberley Civic Centre. “It’s kind of hard to accept an award for just one person when you have 20 guys going out every night and laying everything on the line.
“It’s a surreal feeling, I guess. It’s nice to be recognized but at the same time, I think the team should be recognized and I’m glad we got the championship so everyone can be recognized.”
A knee injury forced Brouwer out of action early in the KIJHL post-season, as he missed part of Game 1, as well as Games 2 and 3 against the Fernie Ghostriders during the Eddie Mountain Division final.
“Initially when it happened, I thought I was going to be out [for the duration of playoffs], which was extremely hard to accept the fact,” Brouwer said. “But I had a great medical staff look after me right away. Everything was really positive even with the coaching staff and all the players. I think that was why I was able to come back how I did.
“I’m still not 100 per cent, but I’m glad it all worked out in the end.”
With the help of Dynamiters medical and training staff, including some extra professional attention courtesy Kootenay Ice athletic therapist Cory Cameron, Brouwer made a miraculous return and the rest is history, as they say.
Brouwer returned to the crease March 6 for Game 4 of the Eddie Mountain Division final and rattled off six consecutive wins, turning aside 185 of the 197 shots he faced, good for an astounding 0.939 SP over that stretch.
Not too bad for a kid operating with pretty serious pain in his knee.
“Flexibility — I definitely lost a lot of that, just because I can’t push my right leg out,” Brouwer said. “Cross-crease passes are a little difficult now. Knee drops. But when you’re taped up and playing and you want something as bad as this, you can play through it.
“It wasn’t just me who had injuries. Lots of guys had injuries and played through them. If Jesse Wallace could play with that [separated] shoulder he probably would have. It’s not just me.”
In the KIJHL championship, with everything on the line, Brouwer elevated his play. Though the shot count may have been down relative to previous series, the Nitros netminder made a handful of key saves every night, including a critical stop on a two-on-one in Game 6 — stoning Storm forward Dallas Otto — to preserve a 3-1 lead and prevent the host Kamloops Storm from earning any momentum.
After a six-game KIJHL championship rollercoaster, Brouwer stopped 175 of 190 shots, good for a 0.921 SP on the league’s biggest stage.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Dynamiters captain Jason Richter shortly after Game 6 of the KIJHL championship. “He’s our best player. He’s obviously our MVP in the playoffs, I assume. He is basically our backbone. He carried us the whole way. Whenever we got down he bailed us out. Even during the regular season, he is easily our best player.”
Richter “assumed” Brouwer was playoff MVP moments after the trophy and banner had been handed out, despite the fact the playoff MVP was not to be named until Monday. That alone speaks to the significance of Brouwer’s contributions.
Not to mention the KIJHL scoring leader, Richter, tabbed him as the team’s best player. Pretty high praise coming from a well-decorated teammate.
Though Brouwer has been singled out as the key piece to the puzzle through the Nitros post-season run, he is quick to lend credit to the team in front of him and at the end of the day, his name wasn’t the only one in conversation as an MVP candidate.
Forward Braden Saretsky led the KIJHL in playoff scoring, finding twine 18 times through 22 games, while adding 11 assists for 29 points.
Richter, though he didn’t rack up points the way he did through regular season play, still posted 19 points in 22 games. Perhaps the greatest asset he provided his team was a fearless and relentless willingness to make the small plays in the defensive zone, highlighted by his reckless abandon in the shot-blocking department.
Brouwer might have been the backbone, but as is the case with any championship team, he was surrounded by a full body of work parts — each of which played a role in what the 2014-15 Kimberley Dynamiters have achieved to this point in the season.
Next up, Brouwer and the Dynamiters take their show on the road — a long road to Mission, B.C. — and the 2015 Cyclone Taylor Cup as they seek out B.C. Junior B supremacy against the best of the best from around the province.
It’s going to take more than just heroics from the likes of Tyson Brouwer for the Dynamiters to claim the B.C. title and with characters like Richter and Saretsky helping lead the push, there’s no question the Nitros stand to compete.
Watch for a 2015 Cyclone Taylor Cup preview in Friday’s edition of The Townsman/Bulletin.
The Townsman/Bulletin has you covered for the entire 2015 Cyclone Taylor Cup as sports editor Taylor Rocca joins the Kimberley Dynamiters in Mission. For live coverage of the Cyclone Taylor Cup, follow Taylor on Twitter (@taylorrocca) and watch dailytownsman.com/kijhl/ and dailybulletin.ca/kijhl/ for daily game stories.
Kimberley Dynamiters goaltender Tyson Brouwer (right) accepts the 2015 Kimberley Dynamiters Playoff MVP trophy from team trainer Anne Harris (left) Monday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre. / Taylor Rocca Photo