The Kimberley Dynamiters remain atop the KIJHL dog pile with the regular season days slowly but surely wearing thin.
Saturday night, the Nitros (34-5-0-4) will look to build upon a three-game winning streak and inch closer to clinching the regular season Eddie Mountain Division throne, Kootenay Conference title and league crown when they visit the Castlegar Rebels (27-12-2-0).
“Playing our game, playing sound defensive hockey and scoring on our chances,” said alternate captain Jared Marchi of what his club needs to focus on down the stretch in order to top last season’s KIJHL championship run. “Really, just being a character team, coming out hard every period. If you’re having a down shift, come back out and battle through it. Just keep your feet moving and keep things positive.”
All sound like key ingredients to success and coming from a guy like the 20-year-old Marchi who puts them into action each night, it’s tough to disagree.
A battered, bruised and ill Nitros squad will be challenged Saturday in Castlegar, just as it was Tuesday against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
Out of action Tuesday was captain Jason Richter (upper body), forward/defenceman Trey Doell (broken thumb) and forward Austyn Moser (personal family reasons).
Rookie forward James Rota suited up despite being a questionable game-time decision and defenceman Justin Meier (lower body) was dressed and on the bench, but didn’t see a single second of playing time.
On top of it all, there were multiple reports from the coaches and training staff of others emptying their stomachs into garbage bins in between shifts at the back of the bench.
“Getting guys healthy is going to be the biggest focus [ahead of Saturday],” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters.
“We probably want to try some things [systematically] over there because these teams [in the Eddie Mountain Division] are the teams we have to play in the [first round] of playoffs. We’ll maybe try a couple things different, see how it works, try to put a little more speed in our game and have a good battle.”
Moser is expected to rejoin the club in time for Saturday’s outing, providing one more healthy body for the depleted lineup.
The last time the Dynamiters and Rebels met, the visitors from Castlegar claimed a 3-1 victory Nov. 10 to put an end to a 14-game Kimberley winning streak.
Former Rebels goaltender Joseph Mcleod was in fine form that night, stealing two points for his club and frustrating the hosts. Since then, Mcleod has graduated up to the BCHL ranks with the Prince George Spruce Kings, so there will be no need to game plan for how to beat him.
“That’s one of those games where you can live with a loss because I thought we played extremely well,” Bancks said. “We got out-goalied and sometimes that happens, so I can live with that. But I like how [the Rebels] play, so it will be a good test going into the playoffs.”
While the Dynamiters are clamouring to lockdown home-ice advantage for the duration of the KIJHL post-season, the Rebels are battling to close ground on the Neil Murdoch Division-leading Beaver Valley Nitehawks (30-9-2-2).
The Rebels have a pair of games in hand on the Nitehawks, but sit eight points back with 11 games remaining on their slate.
“The last time we ran into [the Rebels] they had a hot goalie,” Marchi said. “We’ve just got to be aware of definitely scoring on our chances over there and limiting their scoring chances on is. If we keep our feet moving, we’ll be fine.”
As it stands, the Dynamiters hold a controlling 19-point advantage over the second-place Creston Valley Thunder Cats (25-14-1-2) in the Eddie Mountain Division. Within the Kootenay Conference picture, the second-place Nitehawks trail the Nitros by an eight-point margin. League-wide, the Nitehawks and Osoyoos Coyotes (31-9-1-1) are eight points back of Kimberley.
“We just need to tune down on all of our roles, make sure we’re solid defensively,” said forward Keenan Haase. “Offensively, making sure we know exactly what our jobs are and make sure we keep up the hard work.”
Puck drop between the Nitros and Rebels is slated for 8 p.m. at the Castlegar Complex.
Saturday’s outing is the lone game of the weekend for the Dynamiters. Next on the slate is a mid-week Wednesday road match with the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
Next home action for the Dynamiters comes Friday, Feb. 5, when the Fernie Ghostriders (24-14-0-4) visit the Kimberley Civic Centre.