On two separate occasions, Jordan Busch nearly ended overtime Saturday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
Thankfully for the Kimberley Dynamiters, he avoided that outcome on the first go around, but made good on the second.
First, Busch bobbled an outlet pass in his own end of the rink, leading to a glorious scoring opportunity for the Creston Valley Thunder Cats that goaltender Tyson Brouwer managed to keep out of the net.
“Man, [Brouwer] is unreal,” Busch said Saturday night. “I coughed up the puck and I’m looking back, saying, ‘Oh no…’ He comes up with a big save. He’s huge. We need a goalie like that and he’s the one.”
Second, to repay his goaltender and make up for a near-costly gaff, the veteran defenceman sent a long point shot through a maze of legs into the back of the Creston net to propel his team to a 2-1 double overtime victory in Game 1 of the Eddie Mountain Division final.
“You maybe think about it every now and then — what if I score that big goal? But when it happens, I didn’t even know what to think,” Busch said. “There are no words. It’s huge. I was definitely pretty excited about that one.
“Taking Game 1, getting ahead at the start of a series is a huge confidence booster for us. But we don’t want to get too high or too low.”
The win gives the top-seeded Dynamiters a 1-0 series lead over the underdog Thunder Cats, with Game 2 set for Sunday (7 p.m.) at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
Busch’s double-overtime winner came 5:37 into the second extra period after the Creston Valley Thunder Cats and Kimberley Dynamiters treated 958 enthusiastic fans to a tightly-contested, exciting night.
After falling behind the Thunder Cats 1-0 courtesy a Liam Plunkett tally in the first period, Dynamiters forward Jared Marchi knotted the affair with a power-play goal in the second. The rest of the scoring is history, as they say, while both Brock Lefebvre (25 saves) and Tyson Brouwer (28 saves) shone between the pipes.
“First of all, that’s a very good team,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters, in regards to the Thunder Cats. “Tonight’s game should have been videotaped by the KIJHL to show what happens when two coaches care, implement systems and players buy into it. That’s what the KIJHL should look like.
“I tip my hat to their team…It was very entertaining and it’s the way the KIJHL should want hockey to be, in my opinion.”
While Bancks’ crew came out on top at the end of more than 75 minutes of entertaining hockey Saturday night, the early stages of the game provided a script that looked as if the visiting Thunder Cats might come out victorious when the final page was turned.
The two teams exchanged grade ‘A’ scoring opportunities midway through a fast-paced first period and it was the Thunder Cats cashing in first.
Grant Iles played the roll of setup man, throwing the puck towards the blue paint where a driving Liam Plunkett was Johnny-on-the-spot, sliding the rebound past a helpless Brouwer for a 1-0 Creston lead.
After Plunkett opened the scoring, the Thunder Cats carried a 1-0 advantage through 20 minutes of play and continued to press the issue to start the second period.
It took a delay of game penalty by defenceman Sebastian Kilcommons to spark a bit of life into the host Nitros.
After the Thunder Cats defender sent the puck out of play, only 10 seconds elapsed before a bang-bang play from Eric Buckley to Marchi found a conclusion in the back of the Creston net to tie the game 1-1.
From there, what fans were witness to was nothing short of a chess game as both teams did well to match the opponent, rush for rush, hit for hit, opportunity for opportunity.
“It’s one of those where we came in and did enough to win,” said Jeff Dubois, head coach and general manager of the Thunder Cats, following Saturday’s Game 1 defeat. “We were pretty good through 40 minutes, maybe gave up a bit more than we wanted to in the third. It’s kind of a roll of the dice in overtime.
“First game of a series, we knew it was going to be tough to come in here and win… We’ll take another crack at it [Sunday] night.”
With how tight the checking was after 40 minutes were in the books, the third period may as well have served as an overtime session.
The first overtime period provided more of the same.
The opening half of the 10 minutes of extra hockey saw the Thunder Cats with the early jump though no pay day resulted.
First, Logan Styler forced a turnover deep in Kimberley territory before dancing in to the side of Brouwer’s net, only to have the door slammed shut at the last moment.
At the other end, Lefebvre was forced to be at his best during the first overtime as well.
The lively Civic Centre end boards propelled a dump-in back towards the slot where Graham Dugdale was waiting, only to have his effort deflected over the Creston net and out of play.
That seemed to turn the tide in favour of the home team as Austyn Moser forced a turnover at centre ice to send Trevor Van Steinburg and Brodie Buhler in 2-on-1.
Again, Lefebvre was on the money and there to make the save.
Next, it was Buckley stripping a Creston defender at his own blueline, turning the play the other direction. Keenan Haase picked up the loose puck and drove the net hard, but again, Lefebvre held the fort.
“He gave us exactly what we expect,” Dubois said of his goaltender. “I don’t think we made him work. I don’t think tonight was a 9/10 or 10/10 in terms of difficulty, but there were a couple of real key saves he made… We’re spoiled with Brock because we expect that every night and we get that most nights. We also know that he’s phenomenal bouncing back from a loss.”
Both teams will need to bounce back from what was a long night in the opening game of a best-of-seven series with Game 2 set for 7 p.m. Sunday evening at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
“I think we learned to respect how offensively skilled they are and that you can’t make mistakes,” Bancks said. “As the game wore on, we were making less mistakes — better reads, better high guys — I thought we grew as a team as the game wore on.
“The most resilient team will win [Game 2].”
While the outcome remains to be seen, what fans can be certain of is the fact this series is ramping up to be an absolute doozy — and it has only just begun.