Fans, parents, coaches, and players breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday when the Beaver Valley Nitehawks closed out its lengthy preseason with a 5-0 shut-out victory over the Creston Valley Thundercats.
Playing in its eighth game in nine days, it was no surprise that the Nitehawks lacked some jump, but the resilient team still dominated a Creston squad that had yet to lose any of its five exhibition games.
“Obviously, we’re happy with the win and happy with the result,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Kevin Limbert. “But I didn’t think it was an overly competitive game and for the last exhibition game, I believe for both teams, it didn’t seem to have the intensity of guys striving to make a team and really selling out and doing everything they can to make the team.”
Jace Weegar opened the scoring at 12:22 of the first period taking a perfect pass in the slot from Braden Fuller and snapping it past goalie Brock Lefebvre. The Hawks continued to carry the play, with the Creston goalie making several big saves until the waning minutes of the period when Blake Sidoni converted a Tyler Ghiradosi setup down low to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead heading into the second.
Creston pushed back in the second period generating a few opportunities but Nitehawks goalies Cole Gallo and Brandon Wells, who split duties on the night, came up big when they had to.
Devin Nemes would put the Hawks up 3-0 taking a breakaway pass from Ghiradosi and making a slick move to the backhand before sliding it through the five-hole of the Cats goalie.
The Hawks added two more in the third when Ryan Neil’s shot snuck through the goalie’s arm and lay gift wrapped for Shawn Rowe who banged it in the open net. Nemes then netted his second of the night midway through the third, deflecting a Lyle Frank point shot by backup Patrick Ostermann to round out the scoring.
Creston’s frustration would show in the final minutes, drawing Fuller into a fight and antagonizing Hawks veteran Sam Swanson, but in the end, it was too little, too late for the Thundercats who would fail to score despite icing nine veterans, including its top three scorers from last year in Carson Cartwright, Lien Miller-Jeannotte, and Alex Wilkerson.
The game was also the final opportunity for players to make their case for a spot on a Hawks roster that will have to be pared down to 23 once the season starts on Friday in Spokane.
“We still have to come down a few (players) and we have some hard decisions to make tonight, it’s never a fun time of year.”
Regardless of the victory and a few bright spots, the Nitehawks coach remained unimpressed with the effort.
“I don’t think there was enough body contact, a lot of fly-bys, a lot of soft turnovers,” said Limbert. “It could be a factor of human nature where you play down to your opposition a little bit, and I don’t think they were happy with how they played either. It didn’t have the same intensity and pace that we saw a couple nights ago against Nelson.”
However, over the course of the preseason, the coaches were indeed pleased with the team’s progress, particularly in young players like Ghiradosi, Aiden Browell, Kody Stewart, Connor Seib, Brad Ross, Brad Baldwin, and Tommy McConnachie. Many of the 15-and 16-year-old players already knew they were destined for the Major Midget Kootenay Ice or Midget AA team but can be used as affiliate players for the Nitehawks throughout the year.
Veteran players like Nemes, Weegar, Fuller, Swanson, Lyle Frank and Kyle Hope have all shown they’re ready to play, and the recent additions of veteran forward like Nelson’s Coleton Dawson and defenceman Shawn Rowe from Penhold, Alta. should give B.V. an added edge when the going gets tough.
“Coleton Dawson coming back and playing the way he has, he’s really imposed his presence on the game, but he’s played disciplined and physical and strong. You notice every time he’s been on the ice, and that was a really nice surprise,” said Limbert. “And a big body on the back end, Shawn Rowe has done the same thing. He kind of just showed up and he’s been very, very steady, and very intelligent so definitely some good surprises.”
Dawson split his time between the KIJHL’s Grand Forks Border Bruins and the Ontario Avalanche of the Western States Hockey League in California netting six goals and 16 points with 79 penalty minutes for the Avs, while Rowe played for the Red Deer Vipers of the Heritage Junior Hockey League scoring two goals and five assists in 32 games while accumulating 70 penalty minutes.
With only a few cuts to make before the regular season, the Nitehawks look poised to lead the Neil Murdoch division once again – and add a few titles to the Hawks Nest rafters.
“I think we have the pieces in here to bring home another banner, and it’s just a matter of completing the process.”