A slow start out of the gate is no cause for alarm for a Beaver Valley Nitehawks team waiting to fill out its roster. It’s the finish that matters.
The Hawks split its two home games on the weekend losing to the Kimberley Dynamiters 6-4 on Saturday, before skating to a 7-3 victory over the Columbia Valley Rockies on Sunday at the B.V. Arena.
“It’s early in the year and funny how we were pretty sharp the first weekend, but the second weekend we just lacked the same level of sharpness to our play,” said B.V. coach and GM Terry Jones. “We had some good moments, but by and large, defensively, when we broke down, we broke down pretty hard,”
The Nitehawks went with 13 skaters for its opening matches, but were able to supplement its numbers this weekend with affiliate players from the Major Midget Kootenay Ice. Hawks veteran Kevan McBean also returned to the nest after a strong camp with the BCHL Merritt Centennials, but missed Sunday’s game after incurring a kneeing penalty and a game misconduct against the Dynamiters on Saturday.
Hawks regular forwards Sam Swanson and Nolan Percival have been doing an admirable job filling in on defence, but their veteran presence is missed up front.
“I know those guys want to jump up and get into the play and start scoring, so it’s been hard for them, but they’ve done a great job playing that role,” said Jones. “But injuries, suspensions, it’s kind of forced us to continue doing that.”
Against the Rockies on Sunday, Evan Gorman’s power-play goal at 8:55 of the second period broke open a 3-3 game, as the Nitehawks added three more unanswered in the third period for the 7-3 victory.
The Hawks player of the game, Aiden Browell, was a physical presence all night and opened the scoring at 16:28 when Morgan Peace and Tommy McConnachie found him all alone in front, and the Fruitvale native made a slick deke on C.V. goalie Geoff Drought for a 1-0 lead.
Columbia Valley stormed back when Dace Prymak blasted a shot past starter Liam Coulter to tie it, and Tyler Nypower made it 2-1 on a pretty power-play goal just three minutes later.
The Hawks drew even before the period was out with a shorthanded marker when Damon Kramer undressed Drought and lifted it over the sprawling goalie to tie it at two.
Four minutes into the middle frame, Sam Swanson, Aiden Jenner and Dylan Heppler combined for a highlight-reel goal with Heppler finishing for the 3-2 lead. Twenty-four seconds later Ty Stewart replied for the Rockies’ final goal to tie it, but Gorman’s point blast beat Drought blocker side for the 4-3 winner.
The Nitehawks outshot the Rockies 21-6 in the second period and 41-28 in the game, as the Hawks tallied three more in the third with Sidoni, McConnachie, and Heppler completing the scoring. Coulter was solid in net and earned his first win as a Nitehawk.
Heppler’s two goals puts him atop the league scoring race with five goals and 10 points, just two points up on linemate Jaxen Gemmell (3-5-8).
Despite a good result Sunday, the Nitehawks had their share of lapses on Saturday in the 6-4 loss to Kimberley. Beaver Valley outshot the Dynamiters 46-31, but had trouble finishing their chances and looked in disarray at times in their own end.
“We really strive to be a disciplined team, and it got away from us a little bit,” said Jones. “It was a big game and we recognize we’re playing a good opponent in Kimberley, and as a coaching staff we get jacked up just as much as the players do, so it’s easier to lose control of your emotions and I think that’s what kind of happened.”
Bradley Ross earned player of the game for the Hawks with a goal and two assists, while Heppler and Gemmell each had two points.
The Nitehawks are playing a waiting game before it finalizes its roster. With committed Nitehawk players still competing for spots in junior A camps, the B.V. coaching staff is in no hurry to fill those positions until they are certain.
“It’s part of the process. We want the guys who are trying to be and are close to cracking a junior A roster, but that’s part of it, we have to be a little patient in waiting for the right guy to come too.”
So while the 2-2-0-0 Nitehawks may be for the moment languishing in unfamiliar territory at the bottom of the Neil Murdoch Division standings, the 2016-17 Hawks were in a similar position when they started last season at 3-4-1-0. B.V. then went on a 15-game winning streak, and lost just four more games in 39 starts on their way to the Cyclone Taylor Championship.
“We’re still learning and growing and we have lots to get going and lots to improve,” added Jones. “But coming from the first four games we feel pretty good about where we are, but we have a long ways to go.”
The Nitehawks next game goes in Creston against the Thunder Cats on Friday, before returning home to host the Castlegar Rebels on Saturday at the B.V. Arena with the puck drop at 7:30 p.m.