After suffering a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Creston Valley Thunder Cats Friday night, the Kimberley Dynamiters were intent on heading into the holiday break on a winning note.
Having already clinched a playoff spot earlier in the week, the Dynamiters hammered the point home with an 8-0 blasting of the Golden Rockets Saturday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“It’s always good, anytime going on break, to end on a high note,” said Nitros goaltender Tyson Brouwer, who pitched a 20-save shutout for his league-leading 20th victory of the season following Saturday’s win. “You want to be positive as you go home to see friends and family.
“The guys in front of me made it really easy for me. They pretty much do that every game. They bailed me out lots [Saturday]. There were a lot of plays they made that most teams probably wouldn’t make, especially in an 8-0 game. Full credit to them.”
While it wasn’t the busiest of nights for Brouwer, he remained up to the task as he collected his fifth shutout of the campaign.
“He’s a guy we can count on at anytime,” Busch said of Brouwer. “He saves us in moments. There was a shot [Saturday] in the slot. He makes the save and we come down and score.”
Up front, offense came from a wide array of characters, including many of the usual suspects.
Even Brouwer got in on point night, earning a secondary assist on the opening goal of the game, which was scored by Korbyn Chabot who followed up to convert on a breakaway opportunity from James Rota.
Defenceman Jordan Busch registered a multi-point effort as he tallied a goal and two assists to lead the charge.
The 20-year-old native of Edmonton is having himself a whale of a season. With 45 points to his credit through 33 games, Busch has already matched his previous career high, which he set in 48 games during the 2014-15 season.
“I was just more patient with the puck, I was more calm with it,” Busch said Saturday. “I tried to make some heads up plays and use my vision to my advantage.”
Busch all but put the game out of reach in the second period.
After the Nitros built a 3-0 first period advantage with goals from Chabot, captain Jason Richter and Brendon Benson, Busch found himself in the penalty box midway through the second period.
As he stepped out of the box, the puck squirted to him in the neutral zone and suddenly the 6-foot-2, 195-pound blue-liner found himself with an opportunity to lead the rush.
“I went into [the offensive zone] and I wasn’t planning on doing what I did,” Busch said with a smile. “But the way the defenceman came at me, it just worked out.”
After the puck ended up the corner, Busch was able to retrieve it before making a nifty move towards the front of the net before beating Rockets goaltender Owen Sikkes to put the hosts ahead 4-0.
The flood gates opened in the third period as Austyn Moser and Eric Buckley piled on to make it a 6-0 game.
There are very few times in which a 7-0 goal registers as a special one, but Saturday’s seventh goal for the Dynamiters will go down in history.
After James Farmer swung a pass through the slot, Richter came barreling in to redirect it past Sikkes for the 100th goal of his KIJHL career.
Sawyer Hunt wrapped up the scoring late in regulation.
With the win, the Dynamiters (26-4-0-3) are in the driver’s seat atop the Eddie Mountain Division, holding a 14-point lead over both the Creston Valley Thunder Cats (19-10-1-2) and Fernie Ghostriders (19-10-0-3).
“It’s a nice feeling [to have clinched a playoff spot],” Brouwer said. “Jerry [Bancks] has very high expectations and so does the city of Kimberley. We’re chasing after everything. We want to get after our division, after the league and once February, March rolls around, we’ll be ready.”
Having already punched their ticket for the KIJHL post-season, it might be easy for the Dynamiters to get complacent or cruise through the remaining 19 games of the regular season. But don’t expect them to do that.
“It’s awesome. It’s really nice that we have a playoff spot,” Busch said. “Now we have to focus on keeping first. But we don’t want to think too much of it. We’ve just got to keep playing our game, keep doing what we do.
“We have a great leadership group in there. We’re always holding each other accountable. If some guy isn’t doing what he has to do, everybody is on him. We respect each other enough where we can do that. It’s a tight group here.”
For head coach Jerry Bancks, his club was the first team in the KIJHL to lock down a spot in the big dance. Since then, only the Beaver Valley Nitehawks (24-5-1-2) managed to clinch a playoff spot prior to the holiday break.
“We’ve had such a good first term, it’s nice to be in the situation we’re in,” Bancks said. “Now we can start to maybe look at resting some players down the road in certain spots and maybe get some [affiliate players] involved. It gives you some freedom, instead of always battling.
“I don’t think winning first-place overall is all that important if you’ve got the right team. We didn’t win the league last year and we did quite well.”
To say the Dynamiters did “quite well” in 2014-15 might be a bit of an understatement, as Bancks’ crew went on to defeat the Kamloops Storm in six games to claim the KIJHL championship, before moving on to represent the league in a tightly-contested provincial tournament — Cyclone Taylor Cup.
“[Our 19- and 20-year-olds] are going to be average sometimes,” Bancks said. “They’ve been in the league a long time, they get worn out. I think it’s important that, as a team, we need more from our younger players, our rookies. That’s the number-one thing we have to work towards as we head towards playoffs.
“That’s what it’s all about — developing your younger players and your less experienced players.”
The Dynamiters return to action Monday, Dec. 28 (7 p.m.) when they welcome the Ghostriders to the Kimberley Civic Centre for everyone’s favourite Eddie Mountain Division clash.