The Beaver Valley Nitehawks made history on the weekend, claiming their first Keystone Cup and Western Canadian Junior B Championship in franchise history.
It was an incredible if not improbable run through the KIJHL playoffs and the Cyclone Taylor that culminated in a 5-1 victory over the host Abbotsford Pilots in the Keystone Cup final on Sunday.
“It’s just satisfying,” said Nitehawks’ head coach and GM Terry Jones. “It’s so satisfying to win that last game, to know that the guys gave it everything they had. It was a long season but man was it ever great to finish it with a win like that.”
The small West Kootenay town of Fruitvale iced a team comprised of at least a dozen players from the Greater Trail area, including Fruitvale, Montrose, Rossland, and Trail, which consistently triumphed over much larger centres on the road to the championship.
“We have over half our team from the Trail area,” said Jones “It’s a great hockey town, and these guys really bought into what we were talking about on and off the ice..”
The Nitehawks haven’t lost since Game 3 of the KIJHL final against Kamloops on Mar. 31, going unbeaten in 13 straight games to capture the KIJHL title, the Cyclone Taylor Cup, and win its first Keystone, where they played six games in four days, including their 90th game of the season in the championship match.
“It was a bit like a marathon,” said Jones. “We were ready for that first game and we came out like gangbusters. After that we played well, all the teams played hard, but it’s such a tiring, fatiguing tournament . . . but in that last game I thought we played our best. We came out flying and committed to the things we had to do. It was an awesome experience.”
In the championship match against Abbotsford, hard hits and great saves marked a scoreless first period. But the Nitehawks broke the ice at 4:04 of the second, when Braden Fuller stole the puck from Pilots’ blueliner Ryan Parmar and shovelled it to Sam Swanson who beat Abbotsford goalie William Latimer with a high blocker-side wrist shot.
Beaver Valley doubled the lead on a Taylor Stafford goal at 15:40 of the second. Latimer made a tremendous save on Dallas Calvin on a 2-on-1 break, but Calvin tracked down the puck along the end boards and threw it out front to Stafford, who wristed it into the open net with Latimer down and out.
The Nitehawks soared to a 5-0 lead in the third as Riley Brandt scored off another Pilots’ D-zone turnover, Keanan Patershuk converted on a shorthanded breakaway, and Fraser Stang’s point shot found its way in through a crowd.
Jarrett Martin got Abby on the board with 2:59 left, whacking home a rebound to spoil Clark’s shutout bid.
The Pilots had a rough start to the tournament suffering a 10-2 loss to the Nitehawks on Thursday morning, but then reeled off four straight wins to advance to Sunday’s final.
“I thought we played extremely well,” Pilots’ coach Jim Cowden told the Abby News. “But they got the breaks, and they capitalized on them. They (the Nitehawks) are a good team, and you’ve got to take your hat off to them. They play hard, they play for keeps, and they battle.”
The Pilots outshot the Nitehawks 33-32 and went 0-for-6 on the powerplay, while B.V. Was 0-for-7.
It was an incredible finish for a Nitehawks team that finished second in the Neil Murdoch division in the regular season. Backed by Clark and AP goalie Carson Shamerhorn who combined for two shutouts in the tournament, the Hawks outscored the opposition 32-5 in six matches with Calvin leading all scorers in the tournament with six goals, eight assists and 14 points, while Stafford was second with 7-4-11. Calvin was named the tournament’s top forward, while Clark was awarded the tournament MVP, posting a 1.00 goals against average and a .962 save percentage over the course of four starts this week.
“He was the difference,” said Jones. “What is great, as a team we recognize how important Brett was for our success, but it was nice for the committee of the tournament to recognize that he was the biggest reason why we won.”
B.V. opened the tournament with a 10-2 victory over Abbotsford, beat the Saskatoon Quakers and Blackfald Wranglers each by scores of 5-1, before shutting out the Selkirk Fishermen 3-0 and the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks 4-0 in the final match of the round robin.
“The first game set the tone . . . and all the teams were pretty close, and you wonder how it’s going to unfold, but we just felt that after that first game we had the team that could do it.”
And while the usual suspects like Ryan Edwards, Calvin, and McKinnon led the squad, it was the great performances from rookie players like Swanson, Kyle Hope, and Hayden Chase, and AP’s Blake Sidoni and Mitch Titus, who each had a goal against the Northern Hawks, and defenceman Jeremy Lucchini who was named the Hawks player of the game in the same match that truly displayed the character and depth of the Beaver Valley squad.
“Up and down the lineup we had contributions, and that’s what it takes to win, you need everybody, in your lineup to do it.”
It was a special team and a special year, and for head coach and GM Jones, assistants Jamie Cominotto and Kevin Limbert, and the rest of the Nitehawks staff, executive, fans, and volunteers, it will stand as the most memorable season in the 33-years of the Nitehawk’s history.
“Knowing how hard each of our guys works, you know we’re all basically volunteers, we work our regular jobs and then we come and do this on the side, and the committment level requires getting time off work and having support from your spouses and all of that. It drains you and I think we’re all pretty tired, but at the same time it’s very, very satisfying to know that all that effort as coaches we put in, that our players bought into what we wanted. But it’s so gratifying to see guys win, and when you’ve won before you long for that winning feeling again.
“To see Archie hoist that winning trophy and all the guys, every single guy, you have a special kinship and now we’ve made history, and that’s a real cool, gratifying thing. But it’s funny,” Jones laughed. “Already you are thinking about next year.”
Local fans can celebrate with the Nitehawks on Thursday at the Fruitvale Memorial Hall. The day, Apr. 24, has been officially recognized as Beaver Valley Nitehawk Day by the Village of Fruitvale and players, coaches, and staff will be at the Hall at 6:30 p.m. with banners and trophies for residents to meet with the players and for photos.