If the Kimberley Dynamiters are nursing the proverbial championship hangover, they’re doing an awfully good job of hiding it following a pair of divisional victories over the Columbia Valley Rockies and Golden Rockets.
The defending KIJHL champions opened the season Friday night with a decisive 6-0 shutout of the Rockies at the Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena in Invermere before returning home to ground the Rockets 6-2 on Saturday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“We’re doing some things better than we were last year heading right into the playoffs,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters, following Saturday’s home triumph.
“It’s pretty easy sometimes when you get in a 6-0 game like [Friday]…guys start to buy into the [idea] that it’s ‘point night.’ But we had a good high guy all night long. I’m really impressed with that and I’m really impressed with how guys are buying into the Nitro way. It was exciting to see that without any exhibition games.”
The explosive offense and leadership of the Dynamiters returned in mid-season form on opening weekend as captain Jason Richter and goaltender Tyson Brouwer posted impressive performances.
Richter tallied five goals and two assists while Brouwer made 47 saves on 49 shots through the two contests.
“It’s fun. It’s obviously nice to be back,” Richter said Saturday night. “I love being with all the boys, all the vets coming back. It’s good to see them and now we’re bringing the new guys in. It’s just like last year. We’re all having a good time out here.
“We’ve only been together for two weeks with no exhibition games or anything, but we’re coming together real quick. Our eyes are obviously on the championship again, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time just like we did last year.”
Brouwer, Playoff MVP from the Nitros 2015 KIJHL championship run, turned aside 34 shots from the Columbia Valley Rockies to lay claim to his first shutout of the 2015-16 campaign, following up with 13 saves to collect his second victory of the season on home ice against Golden.
“It’s huge, it’s a definite confidence builder, which is always nice right off the start especially when you don’t play any exhibition games,” Brouwer said Saturday night. “It’s nice to click early.
“Guys were blocking shots, sacrificing their bodies. It’s almost a glimpse of last year, which is nice to see. Everyone’s bought in already.”
Scoring early and often was a theme through the weekend.
The Dynamiters opened a 4-0 first-period lead on the Rockies Friday night. On Saturday night, they fired four goals past Rockets starting goaltender Mark Becica on 19 shots before the midpoint of the second period.
Saturday’s 4-0 lead was boosted in the second period after Rockets defenceman Sean Ripley caught Nitros forward Marco Campanella with a high-stick midway through the frame.
The infraction came away from the play and Ripley was handed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the deed.
Campanella returned to the game after receiving attention from the training staff.
Defenceman Tristan Pagura found the back of the net on the ensuing power-play to put the hosts ahead 5-0 heading into the third period.
Despite the big lead, the Rockets showed character in the final 20 minutes of play, as Ian Desrosier and Emerson Pugh tallied in the opening moments of the third period to make it a 5-2 hockey game.
But, as is so often the case, Richter returned to restore the sizeable advantage, scoring his second of the night and fifth of the weekend to give the Dynamiters a 6-2 advantage with 10:46 to play in regulation.
After being outshot 34-30 in Friday’s win over the Rockies, the Nitros carried out their defensive game plan a little more to the liking of Bancks, limiting the Rockets to a mere 15 shots on goal, while sending 49 pucks the other way.
Becica surrendered four goals on 19 shots before giving way to rookie Chandler Billinghurst, who made 28 stops on 30 shots.
After scoring 39 goals and 70 points in 2014-15, the 5-foot-8 Richter is off to an electrifying start in pursuit of a second-consecutive KIJHL scoring title.
Even with the bulging point totals, four points in the standings from a pair of divisional rivals is all that matters to Richter.
“I could care less about [the scoring title],” Richter said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the team. That’s the way it always will be.”
Saturday’s tilt represents the lone home game in the month of September for the Dynamiters, with the next outing at the Kimberley Civic Centre scheduled for Friday, Oct. 2, when the Revelstoke Grizzlies visit town.
In the meantime, the Dynamiters take their show on the road, heading to the B.C. Interior for games against the 100 Mile House Wranglers, Kamloops Storm and Sicamous Eagles next weekend.
Notes: A number of KIJHL firsts on opening weekend — F Korbyn Chabot, F Austyn Moser and D Lucas Purdy each scored their first KIJHL goals… F Eric Buckley got off to a helpful start this season, tallying six assists in two games over the weekend… The lone home game of the month for the Dynamiters was taken in by a crowd of 603 at the Kimberley Civic Centre… Prior to puck drop, the Dynamiters recognized a local billet family — Iona and Lyle Prier — who are entering their 20th season as a Dynamiters billet family. Look for a feature on the Prier’s later this week…