Kimberley Dynamiters captain Jason Richter called it “one of the biggest games of the year.”
Nitros defenceman Justin Meier said it was “a huge four-point night.”
They might have done it the hard way, but the Kimberley Dynamiters (23-3-0-3) found a way to get four points out of the Creston Valley Thunder Cats (18-8-1-1) Wednesday night with a 5-4 win in KIJHL action at the Johnny Bucyk Arena.
Veteran defenceman Jordan Busch got the visitors on the board early, scoring 52 seconds into the first period to kickstart a big night on offense for the native of Edmonton. The Nitros leader from the blue-line racked up two goals and two assists by the time the final buzzer sounded, but there was plenty of drama wedged between his opening tally and the final whistle.
Midway through the first period, Busch found the back of the net on the man advantage to double his team’s lead.
Shortly after Busch gave the Nitros a 2-0 lead, Thunder Cats forward Nicholas Kovacik struck to cut into the deficit.
Unsatisfied with going into the first intermission trailing on home ice, Carson Cartwright found the back of the net on a power play with only 54 seconds to go in the first period to knot the game 2-2 in a span of only 3:34.
KIJHL fans familiar with the existing rivalry between the Dynamiters and Thunder Cats know all too well that a meeting between the two Eddie Mountain Division clubs typically results in a tight-checking, closely contested defensive contest.
That wasn’t to be the case Wednesday night in Creston.
After the two teams combined for four goals in the opening 20 minutes of play, they stacked up another five goals in the middle period, exchange blow for blow in a wild second period.
Captain Jason Richter started the back-and-forth 7:44 into the second period on another man-advantage opportunity.
Taking a pass from veteran Jared Marchi, the speedster wheeled to the top of the right circle before letting go a quick shot that eluded Thunder Cats goaltender Ben Kelsch.
Richter’s patented celebration was on full display as he restored the one-goal lead for his team, but the jubilation was short lived.
Only 11 seconds ticked off the clock before the Thunder Cats drew even once again.
Claiming control off the ensuing face-off at centre ice, the Thunder Cats cruised into Nitros territory before Colby Livingstone beat Kimberley goaltender Tyson Brouwer and the contest was even at 3-3.
After Livingstone drew things even, a second power-play marker from Cartwright gave the hosts their first lead of the evening at the midpoint of the second period and suddenly momentum had shifted the other way.
With only 5:08 to go in the middle period, Busch sent a long point shot towards Kelsch. While it first appeared to go untouched into the net, California product Keenan Haase was credited with the redirection to pull the Nitros even.
If that wasn’t enough drama for 20 minutes of hockey, Meier capped it all off with only one second to play in the second period.
A scramble play in the offensive zone led to a late opportunity that Meier converted on, giving the Dynamiters a 5-4 lead heading into the final period.
Both teams exchange opportunities and though the Thunder Cats were able to get Kelsch to the bench for an extra attacker late in regulation, Brouwer stood tall, blocking 31 shots for his league-leading 18th victory of the campaign.
At the other end, the 16-year-old Kelsh turned aside 17 of the 22 pucks sent his way.
With the win, the Dynamiters padded their Eddie Mountain Division lead, moving 11 points ahead of the Thunder Cats.
The triumph also boosted the Nitros lead atop the KIJHL’s overall standings. With 49 points through 29 games, Kimberley sits six points ahead of both the Kamloops Storm (31 games played) and Osoyoos Coyotes (27 games played) in the race for the regular-season title.
Next up, the Dynamiters face another Eddie Mountain Divisional rival as the Columbia Valley Rockies (16-15-0-0) visit the Kimberley Civic Centre Friday night. The Thunder Cats will invade the Civic Centre for rematch on Saturday evening.
Puck drop for both games is slated for 7 p.m.