The Beaver Valley Nitehawks saved their best for last, taking Game 7 in a 3-2 victory over the Creston Valley Thunder Cats on Thursday.
After blowing a 3-1 series lead, the Hawks, in front of a near capacity crowd, played their most complete and disciplined game of the Neil Murdoch semifinal series at the Beaver Valley Arena.
“It feels great,” said coach Terry Jones. “I thought the guys had a great game tonight.
“We didn’t play well in Game 5 and that was a disappointing effort. But in Game 6, I give a lot of credit to our guys, sitting on the bus all day not a complaint, and then they come out tonight and put in a good 60 minutes.”
With the score deadlocked at 2-2 in the third, Trail product Nathan Dominici scored the game winner with 6:11 remaining. Dominici took a pass down low from Ethan Smyth and walked out of the corner, sliding a low shot bottom corner on Creston goalie Carlos Siso for the 3-2 lead.
“We really missed him in Game 6,” said Jones. “He (Dominici) has been a great player for us, and the guys they really battled and played hard.”
The win comes after a pair of 5-3 losses in Games 5 and 6, as the Thunder Cats battled back to tie the series and force the deciding match.
The Thunder Cats opened the scoring at 8:29 of the opening frame when Campbell Mclean backhanded a loose puck past Hawks goalie Owen Albers.
But the Hawks tied it with 42 seconds left in the period when Gavin Tritt fired in a rebound off a Jesse Ihas shot.
After Thunder Cat forward Stavros Koutsantonis was called for interference, the Hawks went on the power play. Fruitvale native Austin McKenzie took a pass from Cooper Ross in the high slot and wired it top shelf for a 2-1 lead 3:37 into the middle frame.
Creston, however, did not relent, and Luke Chakrabarti scored his sixth of the playoff with 8:42 remaining to tie it at 2-2.
The teams went back and forth setting the crowd on the edge of their seats in the third period. Both teams generated chances, however, it was Dominici who got the fans on their feet, scoring what proved to be the game winner.
The Hawks played tight defensively in the late going, keeping the Thunder Cats from getting any serious looks in the final minutes with their goalie pulled.
“It was exciting to feel that for our guys, we’re happy to be moving on and hopefully take the next step,” said Jones.
Beaver Valley outshot Creston 41-30, and went 1-for-4 on the power play, while Creston was 0-for-3.
The Nitehawks will play the Nelson Leafs in the Neil Murdoch Division final that starts Friday, Mar. 4 in Nelson with the puck drop at 7 p.m.
Nelson came back after being down 3-1 in the series and won Game 7 against the Castlegar Rebels 3-1 on Wednesday.
“We played them tough all year, they are a very good hockey team, and I’m glad we got a shot to go to battle with them,” said Jones. “They are a well coached team, they have some great hockey players on their team, and I look forward to a great series.”
Game 2 of the series goes in Nelson on Saturday before coming to Beaver Valley Arena on Monday and Tuesday for Games 3 and 4 at 7 p.m.