Kimberley Dynamiters captain Jason Richter looked like a man on a mission Sunday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
With a hat-trick performance in Game 2 of the KIJHL championship, there’s no question Richter’s mission objective was complete as he fuelled the Dynamiters to a 4-1 victory, evening the best-of-seven series 1-1.
“We just outworked them this game,” Richter said Sunday night following his team’s Game 2 triumph. “Last night we got outworked, I thought. They had more will than us and they wanted to win more than us. But this game, we came out strong, had a full 60 minutes of play there and got a team win.”
Aside from Richter’s three goals, Tanner Wit added an empty-net marker to round out the offense for the home team, while goaltender Tyson Brouwer was razor sharp once again, turning aside 21 shots.
The jump in Richter’s step was more than evident from the first puck drop and it didn’t take much time for his teammates to follow suit.
“It’s pretty exceptional what he’s doing,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters, following a Game 2 win. “If you’re not inspired in that dressing room, you don’t have a pulse.
“Our captain, it was a phenomenal effort. Phenomenal. He led the way and everybody followed.”
Richter’s three-goal effort in Game 2 gives him eight markers and 18 points through 16 games to this stage in the 2016 KIJHL post-season, good enough to lead his club and put him in a tie for third across the league.
For the Wranglers, Justin Bond provided the lone goal with his 10th of the post-season, while Zane Steeves was good on 26 shots.
“The obvious difference was Richter,” said Dale Hladun, head coach of the 100 Mile House Wranglers, following his team’s Game 2 loss. “He was on fire. He is the leader of that club and he wants to be a champion again. He put the Dynamiters on his back today as far as I’m concerned. He wanted to win and good for him. I like him. He’s a good player.
“We need a little better awareness. I have a lot of confidence in our kids. I don’t need to have one guy shadow [Richter]. Just be aware of him. The first game, we were aware of him and it worked.”
After being outworked in Game 1 of the league championship, it didn’t take long for the Dynamiters to break out the lunch buckets and hard hats in Game 2.
“Our biggest problem [in Game 1] after reviewing the game was we played hard but we didn’t play smart hard,” Bancks said. “[In Game 2] we did. That’s the biggest difference. You have to play hard smart and I thought we did that [in Game 2].
“We played a full 60 minutes and I thought everybody bought in to what we were trying to do. We played our game, which includes solid goaltending, defence moved the puck well, forwards kept it simple and we scored some timely goals.”
Only 4:39 had elapsed before the captain opened the scoring.
A turnover in the face-off circle landed right on the stick of the 19-year-old Cranbrook native, who made no mistake with time and space in the slot, sending a quick wrist shot off the cross bar and in to give his team a 1-0 lead.
After failing to convert on a 5-on-3 power-play opportunity with Josh Odelein and Tyler Povelofskie in the sin bin for the Wranglers, the captain went back to work at even strength.
Trey Doell filtered a point shot through a maze of legs that Steeves was able to boot out, but unfortunately for him, the rebound found the stick of Richter, who banged it home for a 2-0 Dynamiters lead after 20 minutes of play.
With Jordan Busch serving the remainder of an interference penalty that carried over from the end of the first period, the Wranglers got on the board with the power play to start the second period.
Bond sent an unassisted tally past Brouwer to make it 2-1 only 48 seconds into the middle period.
But there was little standing in the way of the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Richter Sunday night.
Less than three minutes later, the peppy winger won a puck battle deep in 100 Mile House territory before turning back towards the net and sending a quick snap shot high past Steeves to reclaim the two-goal lead.
The marker was Richter’s third of the evening and created a downpour of hats to the ice surface at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“I guess I was just putting pucks on net and they were going in for me,” Richter said with a smile. “I saw that goalie had a pretty good glove, so I tried to keep the shots to the blocker side and my teammates out there gave me good opportunities to put the puck in the net. All those goals are a credit to my linemates and to the team.”
The third period didn’t come without drama of its own, particularly in the dying moments of regulation.
Looking to erase a two-goal deficit, Hladun beckoned Steeves to the bench with 4:15 remaining in the third period.
On the ensuing shift, Eric Buckley burned down the left wing before sending a shot off the far side post that came straight back out, leaving the Wranglers still within two goals.
If that wasn’t enough to get hearts racing, Richter was handed a two-minute minor for slashing, plus a 10-minute misconduct for sharing his personal wisdom with the referee, effectively ending his night at perhaps the most critical juncture with 3:03 to play.
The penalty gave the Wranglers a 6-on-4 advantage as Steeves remained at the bench for the extra skater.
Over the final three minutes, Brouwer was arguably at his best, aggressively challenging shooters and smothering rebounds. The best save of the night came at the side of the net as the Lethbridge native kicked out the left leg to reject a golden opportunity for the visitors.
From there, Wit found the open cage at the other end of the rink to seal the win for the home team.
Lost in the mix was the absence of forward Brodie Buhler who left the game in the first period with a suspected lower-body injury after taking a hit near centre ice. According to Bancks, Buhler’s season is done.
After a rough-and-tumble outing in Game 1, the second contest of the series put forth more physicality from both sides.
With the best-of-seven series equal at one game apiece, coach Hladun said the most key lesson for his group to take away is in regards to the physicality as they head home for Games 3 through 5 at the South Cariboo Rec Centre in 100 Mile House.
“We’ve had more physical series with Chase [Heat] and I think we’ve got to play harder,” Hladun said. “I think we’ve got to finish more [checks]. It is our game. To a man, I felt we were maybe 60 to 70 per cent finishing our hits and identifying men. If we can elevate that a little more, it will be tough for the Dynamiters. But the other part is we’ve got to do it a clean. They’re a good, high-skilled team and that power play is dangerous. You kind of walk the edge.”
That edge is one the Dynamiters are more than willing to walk alongside as well.
“I think they’ve been pretty physical, I think we’ve been pretty physical,” Richter said.
“It goes both ways. We’ve got to out-physical them. They’ve got to out-physical us. Whoever is the aggressor coming into the game is going to have the best start and probably win the game.”
Game 3 goes Tuesday (8 p.m. Mountain) at the South Cariboo Rec Centre in 100 Mile House, with Game 4 set for Wednesday and Game 5 on Thursday. If necessary, the series will return to the Kimberley Civic Centre for Games 6 and 7.