Having seen home-ice advantage slip away in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eddie Mountain Division semifinal, the Kimberley Dynamiters took their first opportunity to steal it back from the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
Backstopped by goaltender Tyson Brouwer, the Dynamiters eked out a 1-0 victory over the Thunder Cats in Game 3 at the Johnny Bucyk Arena in Creston Monday night to take a 2-1 series lead.
“Our goaltender did what he does. He’s a winner,” said Kimberley Dynamiters head coach Jerry Bancks Monday night. “It’s pretty nice to have him back there.”
With 22 saves to his credit Monday night, Brouwer has posted back-to-back shutouts after suffering a 2-1 overtime defeat in Game 1 Feb. 20.
The 19-year-old Brouwer has been the Dynamiters’ most valuable player through the first three games of the playoffs, posting an eye-popping 0.64 goals-against average and 0.970 save percentage. Having faced 67 shots, the native of Lethbridge, Alta., has steered aside 65 pucks.
“I was just joking with him in there. I said, ‘Poor first game. What was he doing?'” Bancks said with a laugh as Brouwer emerged from the dressing room Monday night. “Definitely the MVP and he’ll keep going like that. That’s the one thing I know.”
Brouwer’s first shutout came courtesy a 25-save performance during a 2-0 victory in Game 2 Saturday.
Having split the opening two games in Kimberley, the Nitros were set on reclaiming home-ice advantage from the Thunder Cats Monday night and they did just that.
“We wanted to return the favour,” Brouwer said after Monday’s win. “It’s not an easy place to play in. Everyone has their favourite away rink — this is mine. They’ve got a really loud fan base, their rink is a little bit smaller than ours and they always seem to play good [here].”
The 5-foot-11 netminder was much busier than the shot count might indicate as his crease was once again surrounded by a sea of Thunder Cats.
“There were probably at least five or six times [Monday night] I couldn’t see a puck and it hit our guy in front,” Brouwer said. “Kudos to them. They’ve been doing it all series and they’ll do it until we’re done, basically.
“I don’t expect [the puck] to be somewhere. I’m always looking. I place myself in the position I last saw [the puck] and hopefully it’s still there. If not, I make quick little pushes and hopefully I can get to it. That’s what I’ve had to do and done [successfully].”
The two teams traded chances early on in the proceedings, with both Brouwer and Thunder Cats goaltender Brock Lefebvre going save for save.
With Thunder Cats defenceman Austin Steger in the sin bin serving a high-sticking minor late in the first period, Nitros captain Jason Richter carried over the blue-line before dishing to Braden Saretsky, who snapped a shot top shelf past Lefebvre for the game’s one lonely goal.
“When you look at playoffs, it’s all about special teams and goaltending,” Bancks said. “They’re probably the two most important things and right now, we’ve got them both going. Our penalty kill has been phenomenal, too. It’s nice to be where we are, to get home-ice advantage back and away we go, hopefully.”
The Nitros power play went 1-for-4 Monday night and a combined 3-for-12 through the opening three games of the series, good for a 25-per-cent success rate.
On the flip side, the Thunder Cats have been blanked, going 0-for-8 on the man advantage to this point.
While Brouwer’s been doing his best to steal the show, not forgotten is the performance of his Creston Valley counterpart at the other end of the rink.
Lefebvre, a 17-year-old native of Cranbrook, has been nearly as good as Brouwer, turning aside 79 of 83 shots through three games, good for a 1.30 GAA and 0.952 SP.
“We’ve got to get traffic in front of Brock [Lefebvre] and get shots,” Brouwer said. “He’s an unbelievable goalie. It’s been a goalies duel — he’s pushing me and I’m pushing him. We’ve got to find a way to beat him.”
The two teams go right back to it Tuesday night, with Game 4 scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Johnny Bucyk Arena in Creston.
For the Dynamiters, a Game-4 victory provides a 3-1 stranglehold on the best-of-seven series. For the Thunder Cats, a Game-4 win knots things 2-2 heading for Game 5 Thursday night back at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“I don’t think we have to say a whole lot,” Bancks said. “We kind of have a mantra — you don’t get too high, you don’t get too low. You have your five minutes of, ‘Yahoo, we’ve done something special,’ but it really doesn’t mean anything because [Tuesday] is the only shift that matters.”Goaltender Tyson Brouwer steers away a net-side attempt from Thunder Cats defenceman Tyler Podgorenko during the third period of Game 3 Monday night in Creston. Brouwer pitched a 22-save shutout to help his team to a 1-0 victory and 2-1 series lead. // Taylor Rocca Photo