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The Kimberley Dynamiters open the 2014 exhibition season tonight when they welcome the Columbia Valley Rockies to the Kimberley Civic Centre at 7 p.m.
Fresh off a vigorous and competitive three-day training camp, the team has whittled its roster down from 45 initial invites to 27 bodies heading into exhibition season.
"Compared to last year's camp, the skill level was higher, the speed was higher," said Nitros general manager Dave Smith Wednesday night following practice in Kimberley. "Returning players were in shape. It was great to see."
Having opened camp with five goaltenders, the Dynamiters are set between the pipes with returner Troy Brouwer and Oregon import Liam McBain.
On the blueline, the Nitros head into tonight's contest with eight bodies including newcomer Jonas Gordon.
A native of Canmore, Alta., Gordon joined the Dynamiters following a tryout with the Olds Grizzlys of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The 18-year-old spent the 2013-14 season with the Banff Bears of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (Alberta Jr. B).
With 17 names hanging on up front, there are re-assignments still to come.
Forward Jordan Roy was returned to the team following WHL camp with the Tri City Americans and returning forwards Tyson Klingspohn, Jared Marchi and Jason Richter won't be going anywhere. California-born Keenan Haase also appears to have solidified his place in the lineup.
"The smaller guys know they're here because of their skill. They need to show that," Smith said. "The bigger guys, they know why they're here, too. They need to get their hands dirty, get in there and protect those little guys.
"They all know their roles. They've all been talked to by coach [Jerry Bancks]."
Following tonight's game with the Rockies, the Nitros engage in a home-and-home exhibition series with the Fernie Ghostriders, traveling east to Fernie Friday night before returning home to the Civic Centre Saturday night.
"I expect the vets to lead the younger guys that are trying out, still working for a position," Smith said heading into exhibition play. "You throw the veterans in there to help bring their skill level up to where it needs to be, show them what they need to do.
"I expect them to really pour it on. It's tight competition. There's a lot of forwards that want to play on this team."
The Nitros wrap up the pre-season Monday, Sept. 8 when the Columbia Valley Rockies return for one final exhibition engagement.
Smith expects to have hammered out the opening-night roster before the team sets foot on the ice Sept. 8, so folks in Kimberley might be privy to a regular season preview Monday evening.
The Dynamiters open the 2014-15 KIJHL regular season Saturday, Sept. 13 at home when the Creston Valley Thunder Cats cruise into the Civic Centre.