When the Kimberley Dynamiters finished their training camp on August 28, their 23-man roster included only seven players who had played a game in the KIJHL and only five who played for the Nitros the season before.
Not only did the team have a new head coach, but they had a completely new roster. Many around the league pegged 2016-17 as a rebuilding year for Kimberley.
Their 2-1 loss in their season opener at home against the Fernie Ghostriders gave most fans a similar impression.
But then the Nitros won the remainder of their September games, winning seven in a row and went into October as one of the hottest team’s in the league.
Then as October ended and November started, the Nitros went on another seven-game winning streak. To the fans pleasure, the Dynamiters were not losing at home, including sweeping the Christmas Classic with Fernie, and didn’t lose at the Civic Centre until January 14 against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
During that time span, the Dynamiters had an astounding 29 player transactions as coach Derek Stuart kept tweaking his lineup.
After proving they weren’t a flash in the pan, the individual work of the Dynamiters stars started garnering league-wide attention.
Mitch Traichevich was an honorable mention for player of the month in October and was later be traded to his hometown club in Dawson Creek.
In December, his replacement Cody Campbell went undefeated posting two shutouts and earning the Kootenay Conference Player of the Month recognition. Newly acquired forward Nolan Kurylo also came out of the gate hot, scoring seven goals and 12 points throughout the month and receiving an honorable mention for player of the month.
Kurylo kept up his top-notch performance in January, scoring six goals and 19 points in nine games. That would be the only highlight to January, however, as the Nitros lost ground on the division leading Creston Valley Thunder Cats in a tough stretch.
The Dynamiters closed out the regular season strong, winning their last five games, earning a first round KIJHL playoff matchup against the Fernie Ghostriders in a fan favourite best-of-seven series.
Meanwhile, Chase Miller was named the Eddie Mountain Division’s top rookie after posting 19 goals and 32 assists in 41 games.
The series helped the Dynamiters build character and they finished the ‘Riders season after six hard-fought games including a double overtime classic which Tyler Van Steinburg scored in to send the Nitros to round two.
The next series was the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, the Cyclone Taylor Cup hosts who were stacked because of their automatic ticket to Junior B tournament. Winning game one, and then game three and four in double overtime, what seemed impossible for Kimberley at the start of the season was becoming a reality.
For the third year in a row, the Dynamiters advanced to the Kootenay Conference Finals, after beating Creston in six games, and they faced the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
The “rebuilding” team forced a winner-take-all game five, but that’s where the Nitros magical run came to an end.
While Campbell was named the team’s playoff MVP, James Farmer put up the best offensive output by a defenceman in the KIJHL in recent memory, and lead the team in scoring with five goals and 15 assists.
When Stuart reflected on the season, he acknowledged there was a learning curve, unfamiliar territory and a lot of uncertainty.
“I didn’t really see it going this well,” Stuart admitted. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people from the executive right down to the equipment manager.
“[What] I am most proud of [though] is how they players came together and competed and battled as a team. They were, in my opinion, a true team.”
Stuart was very pleased with the support of the community and the fans.
“One of my goals at the start of the year was to put together a team that the town would be proud of [and] I really think we did that.”
While it is still too early to venture into what the team will look like next season, Stuart is excited about the 2017-18 season.
“We could be a dangerous hockey club next year,” he said. “We have 20 eligible players that could come back, about 10 have indicated already that they would like to come back, and the closer to 20 returnees we get, the more dangerous we will be.”
While it was a rebuilding year, the team clearly over exceeded. Stuart and his staff now have a foundation established that they can build upon.
For up-to-date Kimberley Dynamiter information visit: www.kimberleydynamiters.net/blog and follow Josh on twitter @joshuaklockhart.