Taylor Rocca/Sports Editor
KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The last time the KIJHL championship found a home in Kimberley, there wasn’t a single player on the 2014-15 Kimberley Dynamiters around to see it.
After 35 long years, the KIJHL title is returning to the Kimberley Civic Centre as the Kimberley Dynamiters skated to a 5-1 victory to clinch the championship banner in Game 6 at McArthur Park Arena in Kamloops Sunday night.
“I am absolutely thrilled for this group of guys. They’re a great group on and off the ice,” said Kimberley Dynamiters head coach Jerry Bancks Sunday night. “I’ve known some of these kids since they were in diapers. I know what they’ve put into it and they’ve had ups and downs in their hockey lives. It’s so nice they came together and they’ll have a memory [like this] for the rest of their lives.
“We only hope we can carry on from here and create some more memories.”
Trevor Van Steinburg scored two goals in Game 6, forward Eric Buckley registered the game-winning tally and goaltender Tyson Brouwer steered away 35 shots to backstop his team.
“I’ve never won something this big before,” Van Steinburg said. “It’s a huge, exciting moment. I’m speechless. So happy to be spending it with these boys.
“We battle harder than anyone. We had a game plan from the start and we picked up a few guys in the new year. We all bought it. It’s huge.”
Winning in Kamloops wasn’t an easy task for the Dynamiters — in fact, Game 6 was the only game in the KIJHL championship in which the visitors came out on top at McArthur Park Arena.
After claiming a 2-0 series lead on home ice, the Nitros travelled to Kamloops and dropped Games 3 and 4 at McArthur Park Arena, before sneaking out a 3-2 double-overtime victory in front of 1,358 fans back on home ice in Game 5.
With a 3-2 series lead, the Nitros returned to Kamloops intent on taking the KIJHL championship trophy home with them Sunday night.
“Their coach made it pretty obvious we can’t win in this building and that’s pretty good fuel for the fire,” Bancks said. “When you have athletes like Jason Richter, Tyler Kinnon and people like that, it’s a mistake to tell somebody they can’t do something.
“They were pretty fired up.”
Richter was named player of the game as he registered a goal and an assist.
“You can’t describe it. It’s a great feeling,” Richter said from the ice at McArthur Park Arena. “You’ve got a sense of satisfaction in your mind. You look around the group and realize we gave it all we’ve got. We all love each other and came together as a group.
“We’ve got tons of character. Every guy on this team team could probably wear a letter on any other team…We just have great character and I think that’s what took us this far.”
Special teams were a difference maker in the deciding game of the championship series as the Dynamiters scored twice with the man advantage. Defenceman Justin Meier added a shorthanded, empty-net goal to ice the victory.
Storm captain Felix Larouche was ejected from the game in the second period after incurring a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for boarding Nitros forward Brady Revie.
The Dynamiters made good on the extended advantage, as a point shot from defenceman Jordan Busch was redirected by Buckley and found the back of the net to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.
Moments after the Larouche major expired, Van Steinburg drove the net and took a pass from Coy Prevost in a play reminiscent of the overtime-winning goal in Game 5. Van Steinburg redirected the feed past a helpless Jacob Mullen to give the visitors a two-goal bulge and all the insurance they needed after 40 minutes.
A back-and-forth first period saw both goaltenders fall victim to heavy traffic in front.
With Larouche serving the back half of a double-minor for high-sticking, Richter found a little time and snapped a blistering shot over the shoulder of Mullen to open the scoring.
As was the case numerous times in this series, the Storm responded on the following shift.
After a scoring chance in front of Brouwer, the puck came back to Storm defenceman Cameron Trott. The 17-year-old Langley product fired a long floater that found iron before bouncing in past a screened Brouwer to tie the game 38 seconds after Richter opened the scoring.
Unfortunately for the home side, that’s all the offense they were able to muster with their season on the line as Brouwer stood tall and the Kimberley Dynamiters cruised the rest of the way.
“There’s really no words to describe it,” Brouwer said. “I’m so proud of this group. From when I got here in early August I knew this was going to be a special group. I’m speechless.
“The character on this team is why we got to where we are.”
The last time the KIJHL championship found a home in the halls of the Kimberley Civic Centre it was after the 1980 Kimberley Knights defeated the Trail Smoke Eaters.
For the 2015 KIJHL champion Dynamiters, they had to work their way through an impressive line of top-seeded opponents in order to stake out the championship banner.
After knocking off the Creston Valley Thundercats in the Eddie Mountain Division semifinal, the Nitros rolled through three division champions.
It took six games for the Dynamiters to beat the Fernie Ghostriders — the Eddie Mountain Division’s regular-season champions.
From there, the Nitros moved on to ground the Beaver Valley Nitehawks — the Neil Murdoch Division’s regular-season champions — in a five-game Kootenay Conference final.
Lastly, the Nitros weathered the Kamloops Storm — Doug Birks Division champions — in a six-game KIJHL championship series.
On top of that, each of those division champions were directed by respective divisional coaches of the year — Craig Mohr (Eddie Moutain Division coach of the year), Terry Jones (Neil Murdoch Division coach of the year) and Ed Patterson (Doug Birks Division coach of the year).
That speaks to job done by Bancks and his entire staff as much as it speaks to play of the team.
For Bancks, who has been quick to pass credit on to his players all season long, he is just as deserving of recognition for the work he has done to guide this team.
Throughout the post-season run for the Dynamiters, fan support across town has been a common thread of conversation and something the players and coaching staff regularly reference.
“It’s phenomenal. The town is alive and excited for these kids and part of it is the amount of time these kids spend in the community,” Bancks said. “They’re not just hockey players. I’m so proud of where they are as young men.”
Fans have an opportunity to meet up with the team, check out the KIJHL championship banner and trophy Monday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
The 2015 KIJHL playoff MVP will be announced Monday night at the Civic Centre.
“It’s huge. It carries us when we’re down,” Richter said of the community support. “If we come off a tough loss, we see all the businesses, all the fans, all the families still tweeting about us. They’re still excited and they pick us back up. It means a lot. We have the best fans in the KI. We love it.”
After Monday’s celebration, the focus shifts to the Cyclone Taylor Cup.
Representing the KIJHL, the Dynamiters head to Mission for the provincial Junior B championship, which begins April 3.