The 100 Mile House Wranglers have the Kimberley Dynamiters with their backs against the wall.
With a 3-2 victory Wednesday night in Game 4 of the best-of-seven Kootenay International Junior Hockey League championship, the Wranglers claimed a 3-1 series lead and leaving the Dynamiters with only one life to play with.
“I was really proud of the guys tonight, they played phenomenally well,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters, over the phone from 100 Mile House Wednesday night. “We got behind the eight-ball…but we were pretty resilient and battled back. I thought we carried the play for the majority of the night.
“It just seemed we were a little flat there [early on]. It goes that way some times… They took advantage of some opportunities early and got up. But I was proud of how we battled back.”
The Wranglers jumped out to a commanding 3-0 lead by the midpoint of the second period, with scoring coming twice from Justin Bond and once from Tyler Povelofskie. Between the pipes, Zane Steeves was sharp once again, turning aside 40 of the 42 shots sent his way.
Responding for the Dynamiters were Korbyn Chabot and Jared Marchi. As he has straight through the post-season, Tyson Brouwer earned the start in net but was pulled from the game after allowing three goals on 18 shots. Rookie Mitch Traichevich entered the net in relief and was perfect from there on, making six saves.
Bond was lethal in the first period for the Wranglers.
Midway through the period with Jordan Busch and Tyler Van Steinburg in the box, Bond converted on a 5-on-3 man advantage.
With time winding down in the first period, Bond worked his way into a good scoring position and sent another past Brouwer to make it 2-0 with 4:33 to go.
Late in the period, Jared Marchi left the penalty box and went in on the attack. Working towards the slot, the veteran forward fired, beating Steeves but not the post and the Wranglers retained a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Midway through the second period, another veteran Dynamiter found a way to beat Steeves, but not the iron.
Busch hammered a heavy shot from the point that steamed past Steeves, only to find the crossbar behind him, staying out of the net.
Less than a minute later, the Wranglers extended their lead.
With Trey Doell sent off for hooking, the Wranglers scored a clean win off the ensuing faceoff and Povelofskie ripped an absolute howitzer that burned straight through Brouwer for a 3-0 Wranglers lead.
The power-play goal brought an end to the night for Brouwer, who was pulled after allowing three goals on 18 shots. Rookie goaltender Mitch Traichevich entered the game, seeing his first action of the 2016 KIJHL post-season.
“It was just a change of momentum, something different,” Bancks said. “[Brouwer] is the reason we’re here. It’s a best-of-seven series, it’s not a best-of-three series or five or whatever. We’ve got a game [Thursday night] and I’m sure he will bounce back. It’s a chance for him to take some deep breaths and get himself ready to go.
“Mitch did a phenomenal job and I knew he would,” Bancks said. “There was no hesitation to do it in terms of him being able to step in. It’s always hard to pull the goalie that got you here, but I thought he needed a rest, a chance to take some breaths and regroup. I knew Mitch would come in and do a great job.”
Though Povelofskie put his team ahead by three goals, he wore the goat horns later in the second period.
Sentenced to two minutes in the penalty box for cross-checking, that’s where Povelofskie sat as Chabot picked up a loose puck in the slot before spinning and firing to beat Steeves on the man advantage, getting the visitors on the board and cutting the Wranglers lead to 3-1 with 3:41 remaining in the second period.
The penalties continued to pile up for the roughhouse Wranglers, who refused to let up on the physical play.
Eric Buckley split the defence, bursting through the slot towards Steeves, but was hauled down on the play, drawing a slashing minor on Nick McCabe.
On the ensuing man advantage, the Dynamiters were able to pull within one.
As a mass of bodies stacked up in the 100 Mile House crease, including that of goaltender Steeves, the puck came to Marchi at the point, who had an open cage to deposit the puck into, making it a 3-2 game with 10:34 remaining in the third period.
Boos rained down on the officials, as the 657 fans in attendance at the South Cariboo Rec Centre expressed their displeasure with the referees.
With plenty of time on the clock, the Dynamiters continued to press and ended up outshooting the Wranglers by an 18-3 margin over the course of the third period.
Traichevich made his way to the bench for the extra skater with 1:46 to play and try as they might, the Dynamiters were unable to come up with the equalizer as the Wranglers held on for a 3-2 win to take a 3-1 series lead.
By the end of the night, yet another physical outing produced nine power-play opportunities for the Dynamiters. Both goals scored by the visitors came with the man advantage, though the Wranglers converted on 2-of-5 man-power opportunities as well.
With Game 5 set for Thursday night at 8 p.m. (Mountain) at the South Cariboo Rec Centre, the Dynamiters are down to their final life as they look to repeat as KIJHL champions. On the other side of the puck, the Wranglers can claim the franchise’s first league championship as early as Thursday.
“If we play like we did [in Game 4] we will be fine,” Bancks said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. We had three posts, hit the goalie in the head with one and he had no idea where it was. The power-play looked better, so we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing, go for 60 minutes and see how it plays out.”
If necessary, Game 6 is scheduled for Saturday, April 2 (7 p.m. Mountain) at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
Notes: Dynamiters forward Graham Dugdale was suspended three games for a head contact major penalty incurred during the third period of Game 3 Tuesday night. He sat the first game of that suspension Wednesday and will be eligible to return should the series reach a seventh game… AP Caige Sterzer entered the lineup in place of Dugdale, while Lucas Purdy drew in for Justin Meier who was lost to a torn ACL in Game 3…