An ailing Beaver Valley Nitehawks team heads into the weekend with two important division games, travelling to Spokane to face the Braves on Friday before returning home to host the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Saturday.
The 24-9-1-4 Hawks have lost just once in 11 games but illness and injury has taken it’s toll on the Neil Murdoch division leaders.
Top scoring defenceman Andrew Miller and one of their most dynamic forwards, Jace Weegar, are out indefinitely with injuries, and a good portion of the team has been afflicted with illness over the holidays.
“We had a whole bunch of guys sick, so we’ve been practicing with less four guys every night and hopefully we got it through our team now and we’ll be healthy for the weekend here,” said Nitehawk coach and GM Terry Jones.
Miller, who has nine goals and 23 points in 37 games, is expected back in a month, but Weegar’s status remains uncertain, and with the trade deadline looming on Jan. 10 and the finalized roster date set for Feb. 10, the Hawks may be compelled to make a move.
“I think what what we’re going to do is stand pat with out roster, but if Jace over the next few days, before the deadline, you know if we have some idea (of his injury status), we might go after another forward,” said Jones. “But we’re happy with our roster, we’re happy with the guys, they are working hard. We hadn’t any intentions of making any big moves, but just with the injuries it’s something to consider.”
The Hawks beat the Braves 6-5 in overtime on Sunday, and if the standings stay as they are, the Nitehawks would face the fourth-place Spokane Braves (19-16-0-4) in the first-round of the playoffs, but Jones doesn’t expect the Braves, who are just four points back of Castlegar (21-14-1-3), to remain there for long.
“They are a good team, and they’ve given us as much trouble as anybody so I won’t be surprised if they move up in the standings.”
The Hawks will play the last-place Bruins in three of their next four games, and while Grand Forks has not won in 18 games, Jones says the Hawks aren’t about to take them lightly.
“The players last night talked about having an approach to really being prepared and ready and really working on our game over the next bit of time and make sure we don’t overlook anybody.”
With the trade deadline imminent, the end of the season is not that far away for the Nitehawks, who have just 14 games remaining and their final game scheduled for Feb. 15. Going down the stretch five points up on the Nelson Leafs (21-10-2-4), the Nitehawks will look to refine their game in preparation of another lengthy playoff run.
“Honestly, we think we have a chance to be successful, so everything we’ve been working on we have to fine tune,” said Jones. “The fine details of our game are the things that will carry us. I think that’s what we are going to do is really fine tune our faceoff play, our neutral zone play and our power play and special teams . . . Losing Miller hurts us and losing Weegar hurts us. We lose two guys that are on our power play unit so we’ve got some adjustments to make there.”
Puck drop against Grand Forks goes at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Beaver Valley Arena.