If the 2015-16 KIJHL campaign were a grocery list, the Kimberley Dynamiters loaded the shopping basket and didn’t miss a single item from the scribe.
Eddie Mountain Division title — check.
Kootenay Conference crown — check.
KIJHL regular-season championship — check.
While all that is well and great, it matters very little in the grand scheme as Kimberley’s junior-hockey heroes prepare to bust out a new, and much more important list, which includes, but is not limited to: win 16 KIJHL post-season games; win the 2016 Cyclone Taylor Cup, and; win the 2016 Keystone Cup.
Tuesday night, the Dynamiters (41-7-0-4) welcome the Fernie Ghostriders (27-20-0-5) to the Kimberley Civic Centre (7 p.m.) for Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eddie Mountain Division semifinal.
“They’re a well-coached, good hockey and they’ve had a little bit of adversity in terms of injuries and so on,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters, Sunday evening. “They understand the spirit of the rivalry. It’s going to be a phenomenal series.
“It’s unbelievable. I tell my wife, ‘Now it’s time for you to start getting groceries.’ I can’t get through the store. Everyone wants to talk to you about [playoffs]. The whole town is like that. Because it is Fernie, it just amps up. It almost doubles in terms of the excitement. It’s pretty cool.”
The 2016 division semifinal serves as a bit of a role reversal for the fierce rivals.
After finishing the 2014-15 season atop the KIJHL’s Eddie Mountain Division, the Ghostriders dispatched the Golden Rockets in the first round before falling in the second round to the underdog Dynamiters, who went on to win the 2015 KIJHL championship and represent the league at the provincial Cyclone Taylor Cup.
Come 2016, the Dynamiters are the odds-on favourites to emerge from the Eddie Mountain Division after claiming the KIJHL regular-season title, while the Ghostriders play the role of underdog as the division’s fourth seed.
As much as the longstanding rivalry between the two mountain town teams extends deep into history and far before many of the current players came to lace up their skates, there’s still discontent and bad blood that exists.
“I love beating Orser,” said Dynamiters goaltender Tyson Brouwer, referring to Ghostriders puck-stopper Jeff Orser. “He stole that goalie of the year award from me last year and I hope I steal it from him this year.”
Brouwer and the Dynamiters have done their fair share of beating Orser and the Ghostriders to date in 2015-16, going 5-1-0-2 through the eight-game regular-season series and outscoring Fernie by a 23-18 margin.
What exists is a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions as the post-season arrives.
The Dynamiters have only lost three games since the calendar turned to 2016, going 14-3-0-0 while the Ghostriders stumbled to a 7-9-0-1 mark since Jan. 1.
This past weekend, the Nitros saw the return of captain Jason Richter. Despite missing 17 games due to an upper-body injury, the 5-foot-8 native of Cranbrook didn’t miss a beat as he returned to the lineup, tallying four goals and an assist in two games to close the regular season.
“It’s going to take a whole lot of heart, a whole lot of blocking shots, a whole lot of grit,” Richter said. “It’s going to be a long run. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
On the flip side, the Ghostriders have been without captain and leading scorer Cole Keebler (upper body) since Jan. 16. While there have been rumblings about the potential for a first-round return, there seems to be nothing certain heading into Game 1.
What is for certain is both the towns of Kimberley and Fernie will come alive over the next week to 10 days.
During the second round of the 2016 KIJHL post-season, the two clubs combined to bring an average of 868 spectators through the gates over the six-game slate, with fans from both towns often making the trek across the pass to the rival barn.
“The biggest thing we learned last year was don’t worry too much about the other team, worry about what you’re doing,” Bancks said.
“Will beats skill. I’ll never go out on a limb and say we’re a more skilled team than anybody in our division. I’m hoping we work harder than they do and our will is stronger than theirs. It worked last year and it’s a simple formula.”
Hockey fans will get a firsthand chance to see whether or not that formula works again, beginning Tuesday (7 p.m.) with Game 1 at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
The Ghostriders host Game 2 of the Eddie Mountain Division semifinal Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) at the Fernie Memorial Arena. Game 3 is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 26 (7 p.m.) at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
Eddie Mountain Division semifinalFernie Ghostriders (4) vs. Kimberley Dynamiters (1)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
DynamitersBeyond the return of Richter (29 goals, 54 points), the Nitros boast depth in the form of 20-year-olds Eric Buckley (24-46-70) and Jared Marchi (28-38-66), as well as hulking California import Keenan Haase (26-37-63).
Look for the emergence of Sawyer Hunt (14-21-35), Tanner Wit (12-14-26), Austyn Moser (9-14-23) and Brodie Buhler (3-5-8) as playoff warriors.
GhostridersWhile Keebler (27 goals, 58 points) remains a question mark, the Ghostriders rely heavily on Zach Befus (25-28-53), who Bancks referred to as “the complete package.” Justin Peers (21-32-53) has been in and out of the lineup but provides key offense, as does the pint-sized 5-foot-7 Mitch Titus (11-20-31).
Bruising forwards Alex Cheveldave (86 PIM) and Coleton Dawson (96 PIM) could pose a problem.
DynamitersJordan Busch (8-58-66) sees the ice like few others and distributes the puck effectively. Justin Meier (92 PIM) and George Bertoia are arguably two of the best shutdown defenders in the conference, if not the league. Trey Doell (4-20-24) has settled in as a steady two-way presence after a mid-season conversion from forward.
GhostridersKeagan Kingwell (6-13-19) and Kevin Pierce (2-17-19) have proven steady, while Ryan Teslak and Travis Thomsen (85 PIM) have also been respective pains for the opposition.
DynamitersTyson Brouwer was the 2015 Playoff MVP for the Dynamiters and named Team MVP for the 2015-16 regular season Sunday night (31-6-0, 1.96 GAA, .929 SP, 8 SO). Expect him to carry the load. If necessary, Mitch Traichevich (10-5-0, 2.27 GAA, .916, 2 SO) had his coming out party in a 5-2 win over Fernie to close the season.
GhostridersJeff Orser was the 2015 Eddie Mountain Division Goaltender of the Year and carried the load in 2015-16 (17-17-0, 2.74 GAA, .920 SP, 2 SO). Backup Brandon Butler (6-8-0, 2.89 GAA, .918 SP, 1 SO) was undoubtedly Fernie’s best player, making 37 saves, in a 3-1 loss at Kimberley Feb. 13.