Jason Richter missed 17 games with an upper-body injury, but if you watched him Friday night, you wouldn’t have known.
The Kimberley Dynamiters captain returned to the lineup, leading his team to a decisive 8-0 victory over the Golden Rockets at the Kimberley Civic Centre before once again starring Saturday, guiding his club to a KIJHL crown-clinching 5-2 victory over the Fernie Ghostriders.
“It was awesome, obviously I miss the game a whole lot,” Richter said with a smile following Friday’s win. “I forgot about how much fun it is being out there on the bench with the guys and hearing all the good support and positive that comes from our team. It was a great time.
“Every game we won, I didn’t have a problem with [sitting out]. But every game we lost, it definitely hurt me quite a bit more.”
It didn’t take long for the 5-foot-8 winger to find his groove. Only 2:47 had elapsed in the opening period before the Cranbrook native burned down the right wing, out skating a Golden defender before sending a hot wrist shot past Rockets goaltender Owen Sikkes to give Kimberley a 1-0 lead.
“His first shift shows what it’s all about and on his second shift he scores,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters, regarding his captain. “His first shift, he ran two guys over. Our emphasis is you always need to finish your checks. So he led the way with that and set the tone for how it’s done. We’ve had trouble, when he’s been out, of getting the kids to buy into that.
“He sets the tone for how we need to play and everybody picks it up. It was phenomenal to have him back.”
After Eric Buckley doubled the advantage, Keenan Haase made it 3-0 with his parents in the crowd, visiting from Mission Viejo, Calif.
Then Richter got back at it.
Winning another foot race down the right side, the speedy captain spun and sent a behind-the-back pass to Tanner Wit who unleashed a booming slap shot past Sikkes for a 4-0 lead.
“He’s the key member of this team,” goaltender Tyson Brouwer said of Richter. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen or had a player impact a team as much as him. He got going 10 seconds into the game and I think it lifted the whole bench.
“He is the heart and soul of this team and he will be come April.”
Wit registered his second goal of the night only 27 seconds into the middle period, beating the 17-year-old Sikkes to a loose puck before sliding it home.
Later in the period, Franco Colapaolo found open ice in front of the net and managed to put one more past Sikkes for a 6-0 Kimberley lead.
Mercifully, Rockets head coach Jason Stephens got out the hook, relieving Sikkes of his duties for the night with 8:21 remaining in the second period, sending in 17-year-old old Keyon Bittner to mop up.
Korbyn Chabot extended the advantage to 7-0 early in the third period before Richter finished what he started, registering his second goal of the evening to bookend the 8-0 victory.
All but forgotten at the other end of the rink was Brouwer, who made 24 saves to collect his KIJHL-leading eighth shutout and 31st victory of the campaign.
With 66 wins to his credit (2013-14 to 2015-16), Brouwer becomes the winningest goaltender in Dynamiters history, surpassing his predecessor, Jeremy Mousseau.
“It’s special, especially wins, because you do it as a team,” Brouwer said. “It’s a personal stat, but to compile 66 wins over three years with a different group of guys every year, that’s something special. I’m glad I was able to share all those wins with them. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.
“It’s kind of surreal and a little emotional. From my first year on, I’ve got nothing but fond memories with my billets, the coaching staff — everything is first-class here in Kimberley. It’s always sad when your season — especially your 20-year-old season — comes to an end. But I’m looking forward to the future.”
Saturday night, the Nitros laid claim to the KIJHL regular-season title, claiming a 5-2 victory over the Fernie Ghostriders at the Elk Valley Leisure Centre in Sparwood.
Richter was up to his old tricks once again as he scored the game-winning goal in the second period before icing the victory with an empty-net tally in the third.
For Richter, a recent commit to the University of Jamestown, his game-winning goal Saturday even goes into the books as the 200th point of his KIJHL career.
Over 180 career games (2011-12 to 2015-16), Richter registered 104 goals and 201 points.
“He only knows one way — every practice, every game it’s 100 per cent,” Bancks said of Richter. “Of all the years I’ve been coaching… his work ethic is phenomenal. He has the heart of an Olympian, in my opinion.
“His effort is unbelievable. It never wavers. This is my fifth or sixth year with [Richter] and I’ve never seen him not go 100 per cent… Everybody in this whole community and town have benefitted from him.”
Mitch Traichevich earned the win in net, turning aside 31 Fernie shots, while Jeff Orser stopped 28 of 32 shots for the Ghostriders.
In 2016-17, Richter will head to the upstart University of Jamestown Jimmies ACHA Div. I hockey program, alongside Brouwer, Buckley and defenceman Justin Meier.
“I’m pumped up, I’ve gained such a bond with those guys that it was a pretty easy choice to decide to go there with them,” Richter said.
“I didn’t hesitate at all.”
The triumph sent the Dynamiters to a KIJHL-best regular season record of 41-7-0-4 (86 points) giving Kimberley home-ice advantage throughout the 2016 post-season.
The Osoyoos Coyotes (40-9-1-1, 82 points) wrap up the regular season Sunday evening and will finish second in the race for the league crown.
With the Columbia Valley Rockies (30-22-0-0) defeating the Creston Valley Thunder Cats (33-15-2-2) Saturday night, all of this combines to make for a first-round playoff matchup between the Dynamiters and Ghostriders.
Game 1 of the Eddie Mountain Division semifinal is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23 (7 p.m.) at the Kimberley Civic Centre.