Fans in Kimberley saw a physical opening to the KIJHL championship this past weekend, but Games 1 and 2 were no comparison to what took place in Game 3 Tuesday night in 100 Mile House.
The Wranglers claimed a 5-2 victory to stake out a 2-1 lead in the best-of-series — a series that continues to be mighty physical.
“We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters, over the phone from 100 Mile House Tuesday night. “I thought we outplayed them for two periods and didn’t have the lead we should’ve had. We didn’t take advantage of our power-play opportunities… 5-on-4 we weren’t very good and we didn’t bury our chances.”
Following Game 2, Wranglers coach Dale Hladun said his team needed to be even more physical than they had already shown. Well, it’s safe to say Hladun got his wish in Game 3, though it kept penalty box attendants busy at the South Cariboo Rec Centre.
The Dynamiters were awarded eight power-play opportunities in Game 3 and only managed to cash in once on a 5-on-3 advantage to tie the game at 1-1 midway through the second period.
From there, the Wranglers scored three straight goals in the third period to take control of the affair.
Providing scoring for the Dynamiters were Jared Marchi and Jordan Busch, while Tyson Brouwer made 25 saves between the pipes.
On the other side, Brett Harris, Brady Ward, Justin Bond, Ryan Friesen and Alex Meeker provided the scoring for the Wranglers, while Zane Steeves was sharp in stopping 37 of the 39 shots sent his way.
The biggest news of the night for the Dynamiters comes in the loss of defenceman Justin Meier.
The 20-year-old native of Lethbridge and recent commit to the University of Jamestown’s fledging American Collegiate Hockey Association Div. I program suffered a torn ACL in a first-period collision according to Bancks.
Without question, Meier has played his last game as a Dynamiter.
“We’ve got a resilient group, but of course, it’s a bit of a downer,” Bancks said of losing Meier. “This team cares about each other. It’s more we feel bad for him and Brodie [Buhler, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 2]. Two great kids who have to sit and watch now. It’s more about that than anything else.”
The Wranglers opened the scoring when Harris poked a rebound past a helpless Brouwer in the second period.
The scramble ensued after Brouwer dove cross crease to make an incredible glove save, denying a glorious scoring opportunity for the Wranglers. From there, the bodies piled up and somewhere within the chaos, Harris was able to poke the loose puck through Brouwer for a 1-0 Wranglers lead.
Marchi tied the game with a power-play effort shortly after.
With Tate Page and Tyler Povelofskie in the penalty box, the Dynamiters went to work on a 5-on-3 man advantage. After working the puck around the perimeter without much to work with, Richter fed Marchi at the point who stepped into the high slot and sent a wrist shot past Steeves to tie the game 1-1.
Ward restored the Wranglers lead early in the third period.
After an odd-man opportunity was stopped by Brouwer, the puck trickled through the Dynamiters goaltender where Ward was able to collect it, circle the net and wrap it home from below the goal line for a 2-1 advantage with 18:28 to go in regulation.
Moments later, Meeker had a glorious opportunity to extend the lead.
After being hauled down on a breakaway, the Wranglers forward was awarded a penalty shot. Skating in on Brouwer, Meeker worked his way to the left circle before snapping a quick shot that the Nitros goaltender easily knocked down to keep his club within one.
Bond gave the home team a 3-1 advantage with 9:24 remaining in the third period.
Crossing into Kimberley territory, the Wranglers forward went inside out on a Dynamiters defender before snapping a quick shot that beat Brouwer high glove side.
Graham Dugdale was served with a five-minute major and game misconduct for head contact late in the third period, all but killing any opportunity for the Dynamiters to draw even with only 3:48 remaining.
“I certainly don’t support [that kind of hit], he is going to get what he deserves,” Bancks said of Dugdale’s hit. “That’s the way it is. I’m a believer that as coaches, we’re responsible for the safety and well-being, not only of your team, but of the other team as well. You discipline people. Graham knows how I feel about the play he made. That’s what I stand for. I wish we all were like that.”
Dugdale will be unavailable for Game 4, and potentially even longer depending on what sort of supplementary discipline the league decides to hand down.
On the ensuing man advantage, Friesen took a cross-crease pass from Brett Harris and wasted no time popping it into the open cage for a 4-1 Wranglers lead with only 3:06 left in the third period.
The Nitros were able to claw back within two goals, but only momentarily.
Busch beat Steeves for only the second time on the night with only 51 seconds remaining in regulation, making it a 4-2 game.
But off the next puck drop and with Dugdale’s major penalty still on the board, Meeker went the other way to make it 5-2 with 26 seconds remaining.
With Dugdale and Meier now unavailable in addition to Buhler, the Dynamiters are running out of bodies with Game 4 set for Wednesday night and Game 5 on Thursday at the South Cariboo Rec Centre in 100 Mile House. On top of that, rookie James Rota was lost to an upper body injury earlier in the post-season.
Kimberley product Lucas Purdy, 18, is expected to draw into the lineup in place of Meier on the blueline, while affiliates and Kimberley natives Caige Sterzer, 15, and Rylan D’Etcheverry, 17, are available and with the team in 100 Mile House. One of the two will fill Dugdale’s slot on the team’s fourth line.
“You just try to stay positive,” Bancks said of the mindset heading into Game 4. “I thought we played well. Their goalie was phenomenal and sometimes you run into that. You just keep doing what you’re doing.
“We may have to make a few defensive adjustments or move some players around a bit, but this is a resilient group. It’s a great group of kids to work with.”