Only two games beyond the midpoint of the 52-game KIJHL season and the Kimberley Dynamiters have a firm grasp on first place in the Eddie Mountain Division, along with a bit of breathing room in the chase for the league’s regular season title.
As far as head coach Jerry Bancks is concerned, his group still has better hockey in them.
“I want us to start playing a certain way — there’s probably been four or five games here where we haven’t done it,” Bancks said. “That’s my hope. I think I get a little too caught up in looking at the standings and worrying about first [place]. We’ve got to start playing the right way.
“We didn’t win the league last year. It’s going to be important to start playing the right way. So that’s going to be our focus — win or lose — play the right way. That’s what we’ve got to work on.”
While Bancks suggests he is going to worry less about the standings, everyone else in the East Kootenay is looking at Wednesday night’s match up (7:30 p.m.) between the Kimberley Dynamiters and Creston Valley Thunder Cats knowing exactly what is at stake.
“It’s probably one of the biggest games of the year,” said Dynamiters captain Jason Richter. “We’ve got a huge week ahead of us.
“It’s going to be the biggest weekend of the year.”
The Dynamiters (22-3-0-3) sit on a comfortable nine-point cushion ahead of the second-place Thunder Cats (18-7-1-1) in the Eddie Mountain Division, but with nearly half the slate still to be played, gaps can close awfully quick.
A Creston win closes the Thunder Cats to within seven points, while a Kimberley victory extends the lead to 11. That fact isn’t lost on the defending KIJHL champions.
“It’s a huge four-point night,” said Nitros defenceman Justin Meier. “Every night we play them it’s huge.”
The Nitros and Thunder Cats have split the opening two contests of an eight-game divisional season series, with both home teams coming out on top each night.
The Dynamiters blanked the Thunder Cats 4-0 at the Kimberley Civic Centre back on Oct. 9, before Creston exacted revenge with a 5-2 triumph at the Johnny Bucyk Arena on Nov. 14.
Wednesday’s match up marks the first of three meetings between the two heated rivals during the month of December, with the Thunder Cats paying a return visit to the Civic Centre this Saturday night.
With six games remaining between the two clubs this season, the Dynamiters sizeable lead atop the Eddie Mountain Division is not yet safe.
“We’ve been pretty soft lately,” said Nitros forward Keenan Haase. “I think we definitely need to finish our hits, make their ‘D’ men scared and throw their pucks away.
“[We need to] play a more defensive game — finish hits, chip in, chip out — and then the offence will come.”
As Richter mentioned, this entire week is a big one for his squad. With three divisional games on tap, a lot can change.
After Wednesday’s battle in Creston, the Nitros return home to host the Columbia Valley Rockies (16-15-0-0) Friday before welcoming the Thunder Cats back to Kimberley Saturday.