Two nights, two games, two heroes.
After Jordan Busch checked in as the overtime hero in a Game 1 victory for the Kimberley Dynamiters, Sawyer Hunt stepped into the spotlight in Game 2, scoring the game-winning goal only 17 seconds into the first overtime period to give his team its second consecutive 2-1 victory over the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
With the win, the Dynamiters staked out a 2-0 lead in the Eddie Mountain Division final Sunday night.
“[Keenan] Haase made an absolutely great play to beat the defender wide, he kind of threw it to the middle to me and I had the backdoor to slide it in,” Hunt said with a big smile following his Game 2 winner Sunday night at the Kimberley Civic Centre. “It was an amazing feeling. OT winners are probably the best thing to score. It’s a huge game for this series.
“To be up 2-0 going into their barn is a great feeling to have. It gives us momentum. There’s no room to let down, but it gives us an edge going in there.”
Dynamiters head coach Jerry Bancks highlighted Hunt as perhaps his best forward in a five-game triumph over the Fernie Ghostriders during first-round playoff action. After registering another multi-point effort, including his first post-season goal, there’s no doubt the 18-year-old native of Nelson continues to elevate his play.
“I thought we got on the forecheck quite well and we didn’t allow [the Thunder Cats] to do their controlled breakout,” Bancks said Sunday. “We got a lot done that we wanted to get done. It was a heck of a game. We’re lucky to get the bounces…But you earn your luck and I thought we earned what we got this weekend.”
Outside of Hunt’s game-winning tally, the Dynamiters other goal came courtesy Trey Doell, while Nicholas Kovacik responded on behalf of the Thunder Cats.
Between the pipes, Tyson Brouwer turned aside 23 pucks for the Dynamiters, while Brock Lefebvre made 22 saves for the Thunder Cats.
“A little bit of deja vu,” said Jeff Dubois, head coach and general manager of the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, following Game 2. “I thought we had opportunities in regulation to win the game. We didn’t. We probably let it go further in a 1-1 score than we should have. Ultimately, you can blame whoever you want, but you have to take responsibility and accountability for not finishing off something where you had opportunities to do so.”
Overtime didn’t come without some controversy to precede it.
Late in the third period, the Thunder Cats entered Kimberley territory on an odd-man rush. After Brouwer made the initial save on the opportunity, the puck came out into the slot and landed right on the stick of defenceman Maverick Lynes, who was trailing the play and easily deposited it into the net with Brouwer down and out.
Quickly and emphatically, the officials were on the scene to wash out the goal, citing a dislodged net and so the tie-game proceedings continued, eventually to overtime.
Prior to that, the two teams exchanged opportunities in the second period, but the best chance to take control of the game belonged to the Thunder Cats.
First, Jared Marchi was sent off for slashing to set the Dynamiters back 5-on-4. With 51 seconds remaining in Marchi’s minor, Eric Buckley joined his mate in the box after incurring a tripping minor to give the Thunder Cats a prime 5-on-3 power play.
Despite the two-man advantage, it was the Dynamiters with arguably the best scoring chance. On the first faceoff after Buckley sat down, a Nitros win sent Busch and Richter streaking the opposite direction 2-on-1. A soft pass by Busch found Richter in tight, but Lefebvre was up to the task, turning the opportunity aside.
“If you want to break down where we’re at into simple math, the two goals Kimberley has had in regulation have both been power-play goals,” Dubois said. “We’ve had fewer opportunities than they’ve had but we had a pretty juicy one at 5-on-3 and probably the best chance was theirs with Busch and Richter up ice on the 2-on-1.
“Over the course of the season our power play has done the job and gotten us out of some tough spots. We knew coming into this series that Kimberley is very aggressive and very effective on the penalty kill. At the end of the day, we didn’t get the job done with the opportunity we had.”
Just as the 5-on-3 expired, Carson Cartwright was left alone in the slot, firing a one-timer that Brouwer was able to get across on right-to-left, making a critical save to preserve the tie game.
From there, the Dynamiters killed off the remainder of the minor to Buckley, escaping unscathed from a critical opportunity for the opposition.
“When you don’t score 5-on-3, the [other] team slumps and you build,” Bancks said. “From that point on, it allowed us to build. It’s something to rally around. You hate to have [a 5-on-3] against you, but you can turn them into a positive with a heck of an effort.”
After a spirited Game 1 saw the Dynamiters and Thunder Cats go two periods deep into overtime, the two teams returned for Game 2 and wasted no time picking up where they left off.
Serial agitator Brodie Buhler started the rough and tumble by crunching Sebastian Kilcommons deep in Creston territory. Next, it was Kovacik running over Devon Langelaar at centre ice as the two teams traded body blow for body blow.
After McConnell Kimmett was tagged for a holding penalty, the Dynamiters went to work with a lethal man advantage that provided their lone regulation goal in Game 1.
Korbyn Chabot lugged the puck through neutral ice, continuing below the goal line before wheeling it up to George Bertoia at the point. The burly 17-year-old let go of a well-placed shot that Lefebvre couldn’t quite squeeze and parked on the doorstep was Doell to bang the rebound home for a 1-0 Kimberley lead.
Moments later, James Severs ran Justin Meier hard into the corner boards deep in Creston territory, drawing the ire of Kimberley fans and Dynamiters on the ice.
The 19-year-old forward was sentenced to two minutes for roughing and two minutes plus a game misconduct for checking behind on the play, sending the Dynamiters to their second consecutive man advantage, though nothing came of the opportunity.
After the extra minor to Severs expired, Jake Livingstone took control of the puck at the Kimberley blueline, out-waiting his check before sending a shot in on Brouwer. The Nitros netminder couldn’t squeeze the initial shot and Kovacik was there to clean up the garbage, tying the game 1-1 after 20 minutes of play. The tie score endured until Hunt sent Kimberley fans home happy.
The Dynamiters and Thunder Cats get their first break of the series Monday after playing Games 1 and 2 on back-to-back nights at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
From there, the series shifts to the Johnny Bucyk Arena in Creston for Games 3 and 4, slated for Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.