It wasn’t pretty, but ugly wins also count.
Beaver Valley Nitehawks forward Gavin Tritt scored the overtime winner in a 4-3 victory over the Nelson Leafs on Wednesday in Game 4 of the Neil Murdoch semifinal at the Hawks Nest.
With just under seven minutes remaining in the first OT, Nitehawk affiliate player Nathan Simm picked up a blocked clearing attempt in the Nelson zone, and snuck in behind the defender on a breakaway. Leafs goalie Jasper Tait made a pad save on Simm, but Tritt followed up and tapped in the rebound to give B.V. the victory and a 3-1 series lead.
“My job is just to get in there and forecheck hard, we were fortunate to get a good bounce,” said Tritt. “Simmer, one of our APs, got a good shot on net and I just picked up the trash in front.”
It wasn’t the best 60-minutes of hockey played by the home team, yet, the victory gives the Nitehawks a chance to wrap up the series when it heads to Nelson on Friday.
“It was a real roller coaster of a game,” said Nitehawks coach Terry Jones. “I thought we had a really good start. We had some opportunities to go up three- or four-nothing, but they hung around. We took some penalties, lost momentum, and then they got really hot with their power play.”
Beaver Valley came out flying and scored on their first shot of the game when Nathan Dominici converted a set up in front from Ollie Clement and Joel Smyth just 22 seconds in.
After Leafs forward Johnny Carmichael was sent off for slashing, the Nitehawks scored on the power play, with Clement deflecting a point shot from Brody Martini past Tait for a 2-0 lead with 2:11 remaining in the opening frame.
B.V.’s special teams struggled in the second, with Leafs defender Tyson Lautard skating across the top of the slot and firing a shot glove side on a screened Connor Stojan to make it 2-1 with 13:10 left in the period.
B.V. went on the power play twice in the middle frame but had difficulty setting up as the Leaf defenders kept the shots to the outside, stymieing the Hawks power play, while gaining momentum for the third.
Bennett Anklewich tied it 3:45 into the third, firing in a rebound after Stojan made three saves in front, but could not get to the fourth.
Nelson kept the pressure on, with Ryan Quast giving the Leafs their first lead with 4:29 to play, lifting a rebound over the B.V. goalie for a 3-2 lead.
With time winding down, the Leafs repelled the Hawks every time they tried to gain the offensive zone, but all that would change when Quast was assessed a four-minute penalty for kneeing, with 3:42 remaining.
The Leafs penalty kill was effective through the first three minutes. But on a set play on a faceoff in the Nelson end, and with the B.V. goalie on the bench, Clement and Kaleb Percival worked the puck to Dominici in the right circle, and his shot squeezed through Tait’s pads to tie the game and force the extra frame with 54 seconds to play.
“We were not good in the second period at all, and most of the third,” said Jones. “But we were lucky to get that power play late and execute a play, tie it up and then we found a way in overtime.”
The Leafs outshot B.V. 21-15 in the third period, and 53-51 in the game, including firing nine shots at Stojan in the overtime period.
“Stoj has been our guy,” said Jones. “Nathan Presley has been amazing as well, but Stoj has been amazing, top goalie in the league in my estimation, and he holds us in every game and that’s what he did tonight.”
As for Tritt, he has stepped up his game and been an offensive force in this playoff, second on the team in scoring with a goal and six points in four games. The 20-year-old Spokane product will savour his overtime game winner, but then get back to work with the rest of the Nitehawks for Game 5.
“It feels amazing,” said Tritt. “Everyone was buzzing tonight, we didn’t play a whole 60, but the thing about our group we are resilient and we show up when it matters. It feels amazing to get the game winner, but I can’t take credit for the win - it’s a team win.”
In the other Neil Murdoch Division semifinal, the Creston Valley Thundercats beat top-seed Grand Forks Border Bruins 3-2 on Wednesday to take a 3-1 series lead, with Game 5 heading back to Grand Forks, Friday.
The Nitehawks resume the series with the Leafs in Nelson on Friday at the Nelson Rec Centre at 7 p.m., and, if necessary, return to the Hawks Nest in Fruitvale on Saturday for Game 6 at 7 p.m.
“The fourth game is always the hardest to win, but we’re going to rest up and be ready to go,” said Tritt.