The Beaver Valley Nitehawks soared to their sixth straight playoff win on the weekend with a pair of victories over the Grand Forks Border Bruins in Games 1 and 2 of the Neil Murdoch division final series.
After sweeping the Nelson Leafs in four games, the number 1 seeded Hawks beat the third seeded Border Bruins 3-2 Friday, then skated to a convincing 5-2 victory on Saturday in front of a packed Hawks’ Nest.
“We know that they’re a battling hockey team,” said Hawks coach and GM Terry Jones. “The play hard every shift … so we know we have to match their work ethic and I think we did and had really good efforts both games.”
In Saturday’s match, B.V. defenceman Brett Roberts notched the winning goal at 2:36 of the second period to give the Hawks a 3-0 lead. After a persistent forecheck, Kyle Hope, also the game star, slid the puck to Roberts at the point and the 19-year-old Grande Prairie native fired a shot that banked off the Bruins defenceman and into the net.
“I thought for the most part we played most of the game in the offensive zone,” said Jones. “I thought the first period we were a little tentative but after the first period, we started to make our stance in the offensive zone, which is where we want to be.”
Hawks assistant captain Sam Swanson opened the scoring when he jumped on a rebound off the pad of Bruins goalie Anthony Galliart and lifted it over the sprawling netminder at 13:43 of the first period to take a 1-0 lead into the second as the Hawks outshot Grand Forks 13-11.
“It’s nice to finally score my first one in the playoffs,” said Swanson. “But I’m really proud of the boys. We’re playing good hockey and now we just have to keep it up. I think if we play like we can, we have a long ways to go.”
B.V. d-man McKoy Hauk made it 2-0 Nitehawks on the power play when he took a pass from Kiellan Olson at the point, walked in and wired a laser over the glove of Galliart at 11:36 of the middle frame.
The Bruins had a glorious chance to get back in the game with seven minutes to play in the period. The Hawks found themselves down two men, when seven players were sent to the penalty box following a scrum in front of the Hawks net, and Hauk was sent off 25 seconds later for slashing. But the defence held and Hawks goalie Tallon Kramer made big saves when required to end the threat.
“We’ve really tightened up defensively,” added Swanson. “We’re buying into the system, and that’s what we need to do right now. We know what to expect from these guys, and it’s just important that we stick to our game and not worry about what they are doing.”
The Hawks dominated the period, out-shooting the Bruins 11-6 and carried a 3-0 lead into the third following Roberts first playoff goal.
“I thought we got a lot of momentum off the 5-on-3 kill,” said Jones. “We score a couple goals after that so I was happy with our effort and thought Tallon (Kramer) was excellent on our penalty kill, and a great defensive effort from our D.”
Grand Forks struck quick to open the third. Garret Brisbois snuck a puck by Kramer 24 seconds in to make it 3-1, but the Nitehawks replied on the power play. Hauk and Roberts worked the puck to Blake Sidoni at the right hash mark, and Sidoni wristed it by Galliart at 13:56 for his second goal in the playoffs and sixth playoff point.
The Border Bruins would cut the lead to two off a Jordan Roberts tip in, but Devin Nemes, who had been crashing and banging all night, took a pass from Olson, cut across the slot and snapped a quick shot top shelf for the 5-2 final.
“I thought our team worked really hard,” said Nemes. “We did all the little things right, got the puck deep, especially in the third period and just tried to outplay their game.”
The Nitehawks outshot the Border Bruins 34-25 and went 2-for-4 on the power play while the Bruins were 1-for-7.
In Friday’s match, Dylan Heppler scored twice and Nemes tallied the other marker as the Hawks built a 3-1 lead then held on as Tyler Fife drew the Bruins within one with eight minutes to play.
B.V. held a 23-22 edge in shots, and went 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Bruins were 0-for-3. Heppler was home star for the Hawks, while Connor Manegre earned away star for the Bruins.
“Every night you see a different person get a goal or two or make a big play,” added Jones. “That’s the nature of playoff hockey as you’re looking for a different hero every night. Up and down our line up we’ve had guys playing well. Heppler’s line has been chipping in with goals, Nemo’s line, Swanson scores another big goal tonight as well as just a great job on the kill. We just need to keep getting those extra efforts from everybody, and everybody contributes.”
The winner of the Murdoch division series will face the Eddie Mountain division champion for the Kootenay Conference title. In the Mountain division, the Kimberley Dynamiters defeated the Creston Valley Thundercats 2-1 in overtime in Game 1 Saturday, and repeated that effort with an identical 2-1 OT victory in Sunday’s match.