Former Nelson Leaf Nolan Percival scored the winning goal as the Beaver Valley Nitehawks skated to a gritty 4-2 victory over the Leafs on Wednesday at the Hawks Nest, taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Neil Murdoch division semifinal playoff.
“I thought we played a really complete game,” said Nitehawks coach and GM Terry Jones. “We got down early and we just didn’t panic. I really like the fact that we didn’t panic and it was a big goal from Terpsma to tie it up, and I thought the second and third period we played really well.”
With the score tied 2-2, Leafs goalie Patrick Ostermann denied both Dylan Heppler and Dylan Ghiradosi on close-in shots, but the rebound bounced out to Percival in the slot, and the Nelson native made no mistake rifling it high over the sprawling goalie for a 3-2 Hawks lead 59 seconds into the second period.
“It feels good,” said Percival. “I mean it’s no different than scoring on the other goal now. I have a lot of friends over there, and they love the game as much as I do so we’re going out and doing the same thing, so its good.”
Beaver Valley opened the scoring 1:46 into the first period when Michael Pruss parked in front of the net and converted a Jace Weegar setup. However, less than 90 seconds later Leaf’s forward Eamonn Miller’s shot deflected in the air and past goalie Tallon Kramer to tie it at one.
Like past Hawks-Leafs playoff matches, the first period was intense and physical with the Leafs incurring three minor penalties in the frame, but manufactured their best chances while shorthanded. With Nelson’s Nicholas Ketola off for holding, Rayce Miller netted a shorthanded marker when his aggressive forecheck stripped the puck from the Hawks defenceman and he walked in alone, wiring a shot over the glove of Kramer to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead midway through the period.
The Hawks struck back before the period was over, as Ryan Terpsma’s blast from the point deflected by Ostermann to tie the game with 5:07 remaining in the first, as the Hawks outshot the Leafs 12-6 in the period.
Less than a minute after Percival put the Hawks ahead, Allan Pruss drew the goalie out of position, circled the net, and wired a shot from the right dot for the insurance and a 4-2 B.V. lead.
The Leafs had a glorious chance to get back in the match when Miller was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway. The Nelson forward went backhand forehand on the deke, but the puck slid harmlessly off his stick and by the net.
Quick puck movement and solid back-check from the Hawks forwards helped the defence thwart a concerted Leafs attack in the third period; and while Nelson outshot B.V. 14-10 in the final frame, most of those shots were from the perimeter and easily handled by Kramer.
“I thought our team played excellent,” said Hawks forward Blake Sidoni who had a goal and an assist in Game 1 and was a physical force for the Nitehawks on Wednesday. “We were smart with the puck, great dumps, and good defence, and Kramer back in the net was just awesome for us.”
Hawks defenceman Karsten Jang made a great defensive play late in the game, when he slid across and blocked a shot on a Nelson forward looking at a yawning cage.
The Nitehawks remained calm and remarkably disciplined at times, and avoided the pitfalls of the previous night’s Leaf comeback.
“I thought the key was just the momentum switches last night,” said Jones. “It went back and forth, back and forth and I didn’t think we played well enough defensively, stopping and starting, and it seemed like every time we were in our zone we were in trouble. Tonight we had a lot more poise. We were in lanes to block shots, and Tallon was there to make the save when we needed him.”
With two minutes to play, the Leafs pulled their goalie for an extra attacker, when Kramer made his best save of the night. The Hawks’ netminder wandered behind his net to play the puck but was caught by the Nelson forward who stole it, swung out and fired it at the goal from the side of the net. But Kramer somehow recovered and dove across the crease to make an incredible stop and keep the lead at two.
“He’s a great goaltender, he’s been good since he’s been here, and he’s confident in handling the puck which is a nice element as well,” Jones said without a hint of irony. “But both he and Brett (Clark) have been great and we have rotated them all year and we’ll continue to do that.”
Beaver Valley outshot the Leafs 40-29 on the night with B.V. going 1-for-6 on the power play and Nelson 0-for-4.
Jang had a great game on the back end and was named the Nitehawks’ game star, while Eamonn Miller was Nelson’s star of the match.
The Nitehawks travel to Nelson for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Saturday at the Nelson and District Sports Complex with the puck drop at 7 p.m.
In the other Neil Murdoch division match up, the Grand Forks Border Bruins evened their series with the Castlegar Rebels with a 4-1 victory on Wednesday.