When the Kimberley Dynamiters and Fernie Ghostriders get together, it’s always an exciting night to be at the rink and Monday evening was no exception.
The annual East Kootenay holiday tradition was in its finest form, as the Dynamiters and Ghostriders went back-and-forth, before the hosts claimed an electrifying 3-2 victory in KIJHL action in front of 1,019 fans at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
Pesky winger Eric Buckley scored the difference-maker with 5:17 remaining in the third period, doing exactly what he does best — parking himself on top of the blue paint before banging a rebound past Ghostriders goaltender Jeff Orser.
“It’s probably one of the better feelings,” Buckley said of beating the Ghostriders. “The only thing better is beating them in the playoffs.
“You’ve got to pay the price to get those dirty goals. I’ve been doing it for a while now…It was a nice shot by [Justin] Meier there and a tip by [Keenan] Haase right to me and I had an empty net.”
Buckley’s effort, his career-high 16th goal of the campaign, capped a third-period comeback from the host Nitros, who trailed 2-1 heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
With word coming down that Dynamiters captain Jason Richter is expected to miss the duration of the regular season due to an upper-body injury, Buckley’s leadership and presence has become even more important.
“A great role model for our guys is Eric Buckley, who the other team runs at and takes liberties with constantly,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters.
“His dogged determination, it’s going to be critical. He’s a special player. He’s a special kid.”
It was another Nitros leader who started the comeback as Jared Marchi knotted the game at 2-2 less than five minutes into the third period, bringing most of the 1,019 in attendance to their feet.
The win didn’t come easy for the hosts as the visitors came out with a strong start off the opening puck drop.
“We started great for the first five minutes and then we just seemed to stop playing our game,” Bancks said. “They took it to us a bit.
“In the second and third period, we clearly started to take the game over… We didn’t give them a lot of scoring chances. Our ‘D’ played extremely well.”
The first period provided nothing short of the usual fireworks fans have come to expect from the Dynamiters and Ghostriders.
Both Eddie Mountain Division rivals came out roaring, with bodies flying left, right and centre as each side fought to establish a physical presence early on.
“I heard a lot about the Kimberley-Fernie rivalry from my buddies who played here before,” said Ghostriders alternate captain Zach Befus. “I never really realized until I came and saw for myself. It’s crazy. It’s good. It gets you excited. It gets you nervous — that feeling when your stomach is churning before the game. It’s huge.
“It’s a tough one [to lose]. It’s going to sting.”
Aidan Wilson and Ryan Kennedy struck midway through the opening period to give Fernie a quick 2-0 lead, sucking plenty of energy out of the jam-packed Kimberley Civic Centre.
Late in the period, with Dynamiters defenceman Jordan Busch serving an interference penalty, Justin Meier did what all coaches beg of their players — put the puck on net.
From his own blueline, the veteran rearguard hammered one in on Orser, surprising himself and everyone else in the building after hearing the thud of rubber finding the back of the net.
“We came out and played a fabulous first period,” said Craig Mohr, head coach and general manager of the Fernie Ghostriders. “They get one from their far end — that’s the one-in-a-million shot that goes by Ors. He’s feeling bad in there and he shouldn’t. Those things happen.
“The second and third period, that hockey team [the Dynamiters] outworked our hockey team…We try to try to pride ourselves on being one of the harder working teams in this league and we got outworked by Beaver Valley before Christmas and we just got outworked again. There’s going to be a little meeting with the fellas on the bus ride home.”
It was certainly a goal Orser wanted back, but provided some life to a Nitros squad that had gotten off to a slow start.
“Things weren’t really going well for us right then,” Bancks said. “That [goal by Meier] picked us up. It was definitely a turning point.”
Despite hearing a litany of general unpleasantry from the Civic Centre crowd, Orser wasn’t fazed, making a handful of key stops moments later and through the rest of regulation, including turning aside a glorious two-on-one opportunity initiated by Trey Doell. Austyn Moser redirected the pass in on the Fernie net, only to see the silvery left pad of Orser kick out to reject his efforts.
As is commonplace when Fernie and Kimberley meet, the 60-minute get-together featured plenty of physical play, with both teams earning their fair share of power-play opportunities. By the end of regulation, only the Ghostriders managed a power-play goal off the stick of Kennedy.
At the end of the night, Orser turned aside 34 of the 37 shots he faced, more than making up for the lone gaff in the first period.
“We outplayed them five-on-five, quite significantly,” Bancks said. “I thought Orser played really well other than the long bomb.”
At the other end of the rink, Brouwer was good on 25 of 27 shots, earning his league-leading 21st victory of the season.
The two teams will get right back to it Tuesday night when the Ghostriders (19-11-0-3) host the Dynamiters (27-4-0-3) at the Fernie Memorial Arena (7:30 p.m.)
“I don’t get fired up too much at our team, but the one thing that will fire me up is when we get outworked,” Mohr said. “They’ve got to know it. That effort in the second and third period was not good enough to beat a really good hockey team and that’s not the way we play.
“We’ve got to play Kimberley [Tuesday]. If this is a playoff game, we’ve got to speak our minds, let [the players] know it was unacceptable and then move on. You can’t let it sit with you. You can’t let it build. It’s a hockey game. It’s over. We’ve got to win [Tuesday] in our own barn.
The Ghostriders sit three points ahead of the fourth-place Columbia Valley Rockies (19-16-0-0) with two games in hand, while the Dynamiters hold a firm grasp on first place, 16 points ahead of Fernie and the Creston Valley Thunder Cats (19-10-1-2).
“They’re right on our heels,” Mohr said of the Rockies. “We dont want to fall out of this race here. [The players] have been quite resilient all year when I’ve cracked the whip on them. I’m expecting we’re going to be real good [Tuesday].”
With files from Sara Moulton