The Beaver Valley Nitehawks weren’t as sharp as they could have been after enjoying a light-schedule last week, but still beat the Spokane Braves 5-1 on Sunday at Eagles Ice Arena in Spokane.
“We were probably if anything a bit rusty,” said B.V. coach and GM Terry Jones, whose team last played on Jan. 21 against Columbia Valley. “I don’t think we had the sharpness we like to have in terms of just quickness in our game, but we had some good moments. We possessed the puck well, but I don’t think we attacked with the ferocity that we normally would.”
The Nitehawks had five different players ripple the twine for the team’s 33rd victory of the season in an all-out onslaught of the Braves. Hawks affiliate player Tommie McConnachie scored with 3:27 to play in the first period for what proved to be the winning goal as the Nitehawks led 2-0 heading into the second period, with defenceman Dylan Kent and fellow defender AP Connor Seib getting the assists.
The Nitehawks coach took advantage of a Major Midget Kootenay Ice break in action this weekend and inserted McConnachie and Seib into the lineup, and gave veteran Hawks like Sam Swanson, Kyle Hope, and Tallon Kramer a rest.
“It’s just maintenance,” said Jones. “Some guys get some nagging injuries, and it was a great opportunity with the Major Midgets off to get Tom and Connor in, and we’ll try to get a couple other guys in when we can this week.”
Spokane’s Mason Jones cut the lead in half at 9:29, for the only goal of the period. Braves goalie J. J. Pichette was unbeatable in the second, as the Nitehawks outshot the Braves 36-17 through two periods. So the Hawks stepped it up in the third, and fired 28 shots at the beleaguered Braves goalie.
Dylan Kent tallied his sixth of the season on the power play at 13:24 from Seib and Dylan Heppler, and Bradley Ross scored his 14th on a Damon Kramer and Ryan Terpsma set up for a 4-1 lead with 1:39 remaining. Karsten Jang finished the scoring 45 seconds later on a nice play from Ross and Aiden Browell.
“I thought we came out with a really good third-period effort, but we were missing some key leadership guys on Sunday … and it was a closer game than it needed to be.”
B.V. fired 64 shots at the Spokane net and went 1-for-4 on the power play, while the Braves managed 24 on Hawks goalie Owen Sikkes.
Beaver Valley has seven games remaining in the regular season with a rare Tuesday night game against the Rebels in Castlegar this week. The Rebels are currently in second place and have not lost a game in six starts since falling to the Nitehawks in the Neil Murdoch division clinching title game on Jan. 15. With two games in hand and a six-point cushion on third-place Nelson Leafs, the Rebels are the odds-on favourite to finish runner up to B.V.
Castlegar’s biggest assets are KIJHL leading scorer Logan Styler who has 24 goals and 67 points in 37 games this season, and 20-year-old Chandler Billinghurst, who will likely get the start in net and boasts a 2.79 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
The 12-time Murdoch division champion Nitehawks lead the Kootenay Conference by five points over the Creston Valley Thunder Cats and are ahead in the KIJHL regular-season race by four points over the Okanagan-Shushwap Conference’s Osoyoos Coyotes. B.V. has suffered just four losses this season, something Jones says is the fewest number in his 20 years behind the Hawks’ bench.
“We haven’t really talked about it much, but with the start that we had, and then we get onto that long (15-game win) streak, and now we’re on another (11-game) streak, it’s been a great season. But at the end of the day, we know this season ends, and a whole new season (playoffs) begins, and we just want to keep getting better and ready for it.”
The Hawks are road warriors and play five straight matches away from home before returning to the Hawks Nest on Feb. 17 to play the Kimberley Dynamiters. B.V. closes out the regular season in Fernie on Feb 19.
The puck drop in Castlegar on Tuesday is 7 p.m.