The 2016 KIJHL championship is off to a roaring start as the 100 Mile House Wranglers — making their first appearance on the big stage — claimed a 2-1 victory over the Kimberley Dynamiters Saturday night to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Wranglers got third period goals from Kolby Page and Ryan Friesen to complete the comeback, while Zane Steeves made 22 saves between the pipes.
“Our goal wasn’t to win one game, our goal was to make it a long series,” said Dale Hladun, head coach of the Wranglers, following Saturday’s Game 1 triumph. “By getting this victory, it certainly helps us.
“Kimberley is the type of club, even if you score a goal, they push back hard. So even if we won Game 1 — sometimes we poke the bear, too. They’re going to come hard [in Game 2]. They’re the defending champions and they know what it takes. They’ve been there. We still have that mountain to climb.”
Defenceman Jordan Busch provided the lone goal for the Dynamiters, while Tyson Brouwer turned aside 25 shots in the loss.
While the Wranglers did all their scoring in the third period, Dynamiters head coach Jerry Bancks said it was a subpar second period that was the ultimate downfall for his club, as they fell behind 1-0 in the best-of-seven league championship.
“We played very, very well in the first period, and in the second period we let them into it,” Bancks said Saturday. “We stopped finishing checks. We lost too many battles and I think the momentum carried into the third.
“They outworked us for two periods. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.”
The Wranglers applied heavy pressure to the end the second period and picked up right where they left off at the beginning of the third period.
With Justin Meier serving a delay of game penalty after a mass pile-up of bodies around the Kimberley crease, Kolby Page got his team on the board.
The Dynamiters had nearly killed off the disadvantage, but with one second remaining on the power-play, Page slipped to the backdoor and deposited a rebound into a gaping cage, past a helpless Brouwer, who was down and out on the play.
For Page — a 16-year-old native of Vanderhoof, B.C. — it was his first goal of the post-season and it couldn’t have come at a bigger time, tying the game 1-1 with 14:51 remaining in the third period.
The game-winning goal came on a play that Dynamiters fans are all too accustomed to seeing with the lively boards in the Kimberley Civic Centre, only this time around, it was the visitors taking advantage.
A long shot ricocheted off the end wall and straight back in front of Brouwer’s net, landing on the stick of Friesen, who wasted no time in sending it to the back of the net for a 2-1 Wranglers lead with only 6:15 to go.
“I think Kimberley knows exactly how this rink works with the wild bounces,” Hladun said. “We said, ‘Boys, anything near the net does not suck.’ Sure enough, [Tavis] Roch made a nice play hitting the wall behind the goalie and it made a difference.”
The Dynamiters managed a couple opportunities after that, but nothing breathtaking as 100 Mile House hung on to take a 1-0 series lead in the KIJHL championship series.
It was a strange scene for many in the East Kootenay, as silence echoed through the Kimberley Civic Centre when the final buzzer sounded, despite there being 1,057 fans in attendance Saturday night.
Busch opened the scoring in the first period with a heavy point shot that burned high past the glove of Steeves for a 1-0 Dynamiters lead.
“We had a good first period, but not everybody showed up to play [after that],” Busch said. “Maybe it was mental preparation, maybe we didn’t win the battles we needed to out there — didn’t bear down on the chances. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to own it. It’s behind us now, so we can’t get too low on it. We’ve got another game [Sunday] and three [in 100 Mile House]. We’ve just got to focus on the next game and keep going.”
The power-play goal came with Tate Page serving a cross-checking minor off a hectic sequence deep in the 100 Mile House territory.
The ordeal resulted in 26 minutes in penalties spread between three players after Jaydon Gilding ran Dynamiters captain Jason Richter from behind into the corner boards. Gilding was issued two minutes and a game misconduct for checking from behind.
Dynamiters forward Eric Buckley was handed a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct for checking to the head for responding on the play and Tate Page’s minor rounded out the penalties.
The hit on Richter summed up the first period in a microcosm as bodies flew left, right and centre.
“They’re a physical team,” Busch said. “We need to forecheck them hard and get them to cough up pucks. If that happens and we get a loose puck, we can bury it. Our forecheck and the pressure we put on them is what’s going to drive us. That’s what we need to win this series.”
Richter missed a couple shifts after being helped off the ice by Busch and president/trainer Chad Koran, but returned later in the period. From there, the shifty winger was nearly caught in the trolley tracks as he entered Wranglers territory on an ensuing shift. The Cranbrook native narrowly escaped complete disaster as he side-stepped a check at the last second, but was still slow to leave the ice surface and once again headed back down the tunnel.
The physicality carried over to the second period as the Wranglers pushed for the equalizer.
“Kimberley has a lot of skill and we have a reputation of being physical,” Hladun said. “We’re going to grind you and wear you down. We’re going to try to, anyway. The good thing is we’ve got speed that can do it. We’re not just big plugs. We’ve got guys that can skate and finish hits. We tend to roll as many guys as we can.”
The scoring opportunities were a bit more plentiful for the visitors in the middle period as Brouwer was called upon to be sharp.
Off the opening puck drop, Tyler Van Steinburg lost an edge, sending Page in for a great opportunity, but Brouwer and his ever trusty glove was there to respond.
Midway through the period, Brett Harris pretzeled Trey Doell to break in for another great opportunity but Brouwer was able to sprawl out and shut the door once again as the Wranglers pressed hard over the final 10 minutes of the second.
For the Dynamiters, Saturday’s loss is only their third of the post-season. After getting past the Fernie Ghostriders in five games, the Nitros swept the Creston Valley Thunder Cats before giving up one game to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in a five-game conference championship.
Falling behind 1-0 and knowing the series shifts to 100 Mile House for Games 3 through 5, the Dynamiters know Game 2 is of the utmost importance.
“We’ve got to win, first of all,” Busch said. “We’ve got three games there [in 100 Mile House]. We’re not going to change anything. We’ve won a lot of games, we’ve lost games at home, we’ve lost games away. It’s nothing.
“Not too high, not too low. I know we always say that, but we’re not changing anything. We’ve got to come out, make sure we’re prepared and we’ve got to make sure our work ethic is there. If we have those two, everything will fall into place.”
The two teams get right back to it Sunday night, with Game 2 slated for 7 p.m. at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“We’ve got to stick to what got us this far,” Bancks said. “We’ve got to get a little bit more from some players. Some players have more to offer and if that doesn’t happen, it could be a short series. If it does happen, I certainly think we can play with them. We proved that in the first period.
“It was a good hockey game, could’ve gone either way. We’ve been very fortunate so far… that every one of those games that was close we won. This is the first one we didn’t. Hopefully it sends a message that we’re not that good and we’ve got to work.”
From there, the series treks all the way back to the South Cariboo Rec Centre in 100 Mile House, with Game 3 slated for Tuesday.