The Kimberley Dynamiters are headed to the Kootenay Conference Finals for the third year in a row after defeating the 2017 Cyclone Taylor Host Creston Valley Thunder Cats in six games.
The Nitros came out blazing early and Calgary-native Nolan Kurylo scored just after the five-minute mark of the first period to kick off the scoring.
The Thunder Cats, on the other hand, came out of the gate slowly and only put up seven shots on Kimberley netminder Cody Campbell.
“After [that start], I knew the [‘Cats] second period was going to be phenomenal,” Campbell said. He was proven absolutely right, and Creston responded in a big way.
Justen James got the team on the board early in the second period to tie the game at one. In total, the ‘Cats fired an astounding 17 shots in the second period, but the Dynamiters shut the door, regained their lead and built on it.
Kurylo scored his second of the game, and then Nic Herringer deflected a power play goal with 23 seconds left in the second to give the Dynamiters a 3-1 lead.
“Coming out for the third period, and [being] up 3-1, might have been the biggest period that I have ever played in my life,” Campbell said. “I am happy that I am here.”
The Dynamiters started Brandon Langridge, Brandt Bertoia and Nicholas Ketola to open the final frame.
“[They] were our best line in the first 40 minutes during 5-on-5, so it was easy to start them in the third,” head coach and general manager Derek Stuart said.
The line rewarded Stuart and the team, and Ketola scored his first goal of the series just 14 seconds into the third period, to give the Dynamiters a commanding 4-1 lead over the Thunder Cats.
Near the three minute mark, the ‘Cats pulled their goalie, and kept pressure on the Dynamiters for a whole two-minutes before James Farmer added to his KIJHL-leading point total by scoring on the empty net.
‘Cats forward Grant Iles scored with 26 seconds left, but it was too little, too late. The Dynamiters defeated the regular season Eddie Mountain division leaders in six games to advance, once again, to the Kootenay Conference finals.
Stuart felt that his team has always had the confidence to beat the Thunder Cats, but finishing them in six games, gives them a little extra boost.
The players agreed.
“It’s a huge series for us to take down Creston, especially with them being the [Cyclone Taylor Cup] host,” Kurylo said. “Tonight was the night we needed to come and play our best hockey, [and this is] a confidence [booster] for the next series.”
Kurylo had six goals in the series, including two overtime game-winners.
“I’m just trying to put the puck in the net [and] things are bouncing the right way right now,” he said. “I want to carry that into the Beaver Valley series.”
The opponent in the Conference finals is a familiar foe, the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. In the past three seasons, these two teams have met in the Kootenay Conference finals, but the difference this year is that it is a best-of-five series instead of a best-of-seven.
Stuart wants his team to rest, but also doesn’t want them to lose any momentum heading into the series on Friday.
“[We need to ] try to pick up where we left off,” the coach said. “I think that our game six against Creston was our best game of the playoffs thus far.
“Our guys understand what the level of play has to be [and] the compete and work ethic have to be there.”
According to Stuart, the Nitehawks are a team the Dynamiters have wanted to emulate all-season long because of the way they play a full 60-minutes of hockey.
Beaver Valley swept their previous two series, first taming the Border Bruins, and then trimming the Leafs.
As a result, the Nitehawks have 10 players in their lineup that have averaged nearly a point-per-game or more, thus far.
In addition, their goalie, Tallon Kramer is arguably the best netminder in the league. He has been in net for all eight wins and has a 2.01 goals against average and a 0.911 save percentage.
“We will definitely have our work cut out for us with Kramer in net,” Stuart said. “[But] in my opinion, it’s the two best goalies in our conference going at it now.”
The series begins in Fruitvale with games one and two on Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m., and games three and four taking place in Kimberley on Tuesday and Wednesday.