A 6-2 pounding by the Nelson Leafs Friday, may be just what the Beaver Valley Nitehawks needed, as the Hawks turned it around Saturday with a gutsy 2-1 victory to keep pace with the Leafs for top spot in the KIJHL’s Neil Murdoch division standings.
The split on the weekend means the Hawks remain four points back of the division leading Leafs, but have two games in hand, setting up another exciting finish to the regular season.
“I thought Friday was probably our worst effort of the year, and Saturday was one of our best,” said Nitehawks coach Terry Jones. “We were incredibly undisciplined on Friday, a poor all around effort, and full marks to Nelson for the win. Then on Saturday we really played hard from being at probably our lowest point on the season, I thought we really bounced back. It was a very solid team effort.”
Ryan Edwards netted the winning goal on the power play at 6:18 of the third period to break a 1-1 tie and give the Hawks the victory that snapped a three game losing skid. Edwards goal came on assists from Archie McKinnon and Riley Brandt after the Leafs top scorer Jamie Vlanich was sent off for slashing at 8:04 of the third.
Following a scoreless first period, Beaver Valley’s Sheldon Hubbard opened the scoring in the second, beating Nelson netminder Brad Rebagliati.
The score remained 1-0 until the third when Alec Wilkinson took a Vlanich pass and beat Nitehawk goalie Brett Clark at 16:21 to tie it. Clark had a solid game in net for the Nitehawks stopping 31 of 32 shots, while Rebagliati also had a strong game for Nelson, stopping 43 of 45 shots.
On Friday, penalties once again proved the difference in the game against Nelson, as the Leafs played 28 minutes with a man advantage, including three two-man advantages.
“We gave up 14 power play advantages and I thought we could have given up another 10 . . . we were so undisciplined and stupid in our play, but I had no problems with the refereeing on Friday at all, even though the penalties were so lopsided.”
The Nitehawks managed just 15 shots on goal, one of their lowest shot-totals of the season, while Hawks goaltender Greyson Sharpe was rudely welcomed back to the line up by Nelson shooters in the 6-2 drubbing.
Nelson minor-hockey product Carson Wilans scored twice and added two assists for the Leafs, while Trail native Vlanich had two goals and a helper to lift Nelson to the victory Friday. Kyle Clayton and Wilkinson rounded out the scoring for the Leafs while Dallas Calvin and Ryan Edwards replied for the Hawks.
The third-straight loss marks the Nitehawks’ longest losing streak of the season, so the win Saturday was crucial to rebuild the confidence heading into their final five games.
“You go through highs and lows,” said Jones. “ I don’t know if it’s a turning point or not, but I think the guys made some strides and learned some lessons, and I think we really had to take real good looks at ourselves individually to see what kind of character we have, so I was really happy with the bounce back.”
The Nitehawks can cut into the Leaf lead with a win over Grand Forks tonight. They then have a home-and-home series versus Castlegar this weekend, before playing Spokane and Nelson to end their season.
The Border Bruins have all but relinquished any chance of a playoff spot falling 10 points back of Spokane for the fourth and final berth, although they have five-games in hand.
The Braves meanwhile trail Castlegar in third place by one point in the Neil Murdoch division, but with just two games to play, Spokane will need some help from B.V. if it hopes to surpass the Rebels.
The top spot in the Neil Murdoch division may come down to the last game of the season, as B.V. has five games remaining and the Leafs just three. The two teams face each other in their final match of the regular season Feb. 22.
“I always say, ‘it doesn’t matter where you finish but it matters how you’re playing going into the playoffs’ . . . We knew going into our last seven games, every game was tough. It is what it is. If you don’t finish first you reconcile that, and if you do finish first you’re happy with that feather in your cap. The only thing I can say is that the last three years home ice has meant a lot in the second-round playoffs.”
The Nitehawks lost in double-overtime in the seventh game of the Neil Murdoch division final against Castlegar last season, and won in Game 7 in 2012, with each winner enjoying home ice advantage for the respective year.