It was full-face-masks versus visors on Wednesday, as a rookie squad of Beaver Valley Nitehawks hosted the Grand Forks Border Bruins to open the Hawks exhibition season.
The Nitehawks camp started on Monday and held two days of intensive workouts, before starting a six-games-in-seven-days exhibition series on Wednesday that continues through the weekend.
“We’re a couple days in and we’re really happy with how it (the Nitehawks camp) started,” said Beaver Valley assistant coach Jeremy Cominotto. “The guys are ready and in shape, and we’re always really impressed with the local talent that we get out. These young guys come out and they give it there all. There’s some talented guys out here and you can’t ask for much more.”
The Beaver Valley coaching staff wanted a good look at the up-and-coming Nitehawks, icing 19 rookies and one veteran Hawk in 17-year-old Aiden Browell, against a veteran squad of Border Bruins led by Grand Forks leading scorer and 20-year-old Trey Mason.
“We have a limited number of guys, and still some trickling down, but right now we felt comfortable with giving everyone an opportunity to play, and give them that experience so that they want to come back,” said Cominotto.
The Nitehawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal from Angus Amadio midway through the opening period. However, Grand Forks replied three minutes later when Jordan Robertson broke in on a breakaway and beat Hawks goalie Liam Coulter low to tie it. The Border Bruins netted another before the period was out, and added singles in periods two and three on their way to a 4-1 victory.
Despite the loss, the Hawks coaching staff was satisfied with the effort, given that most of the B.V. players were 16- and 17-year-old skaters.
“It’s a pretty veteran line up on that side, and our guys are pretty young but they’re hanging in there, and they’re battling, and not backing down from any of their veteran guys, which is really impressive. So it doesn’t matter what the score is, but the heart that they’re showing, the competitiveness is way more than I ever would have expected.”
The Nitehawks improved as the game wore on and pressured the Bruins returning netminder, Tyler Loura, who made several big stops in the third period to preserve a two-goal lead.
The Hawks committed to local talent Christian Macasso and Connor Seib, who played for the Major Midget Kootenay Ice last season, but the number of spots remaining depends on how many players return from Junior A camps. One of those is 19-year-old Blake Sidoni, who is making a very strong case for a position on the Merritt Centennials. Sidoni scored the only Centennials goal in a 5-1 loss to West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday and has been a standout in camp.
“Blake Sidoni has done everything possible in training camp to earn a coveted spot on Merritt’s final 23-man roster for 2017-18,” wrote Ian Webster of the Merritt Herald. “The former Beaver Valley Nighthawk has shown a ton of grit and determination, and scored plenty of goals to boot.”
The Nitehawks have about a dozen returning players with Jaxen Gemmell (released by the Alberni Bulldogs) and Damon Kramer (released from Grande Prairie Storm) set to return to the line up. But others like defencemen Dylan Kent and Kevan McBean are a question mark and still with Junior A teams.
“It’s hard to say right now, the trickle down effect, and Jr. A guys, as soon as they make their cuts we’ll have a better idea. They still have a couple of our guys we don’t know if we’re going to get them back, but if we do, they have a spot.”
As for players that impressed the Beaver Valley coach in Wednesday’s all-rookie line up, the Hawks’ goal-scorer was coach Cominotto’s pick.
“Angus Amadio has been the guy for me. He’s battled every shift and competed and never stops moving his feet. He scored the goal there and he could have had a couple more, so he’s getting right in there, banging and crashing, and that’s what he does best, and that’s what he did tonight.”
The Nitehawks hosted the Nelson Leafs on Thursday, but the score was unavailable at press time. The Hawks continue their exhibition run with games in Nelson tonight at 7 p.m., Grand Forks on Saturday at 7 p.m., Castlegar on Sunday against the Rebels at 2 p.m. and wind up with a visit from the Rebels in Beaver Valley on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The Nitehawks will mix in more veterans as the exhibition series wears on, but will retain a full complement of players throughout the weekend with the hopes of avoiding the injury bug that plagued them early last season.
“That’s another reason we kept a lot of guys,” added Cominotto.