The New Years Eve game between the Beaver Valley Nitehawks and Nelson Maple Leafs has emerged as a bona fide classic with this year’s game ending in a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory for the Hawks.
The New Year’s match up between the two teams began in 2013 when the Hawks overcame a 4-2 deficit and scored five third-period goals for a 7-5 victory. Last year the Leafs took a close 5-4 match into the final minute and salted it away with two empty netters for a 7-4 triumph, and in 2014 the Leafs’ 4-3 win was rescinded because of a rule violation and the victory awarded to the Hawks.
Saturday’s Nitehawks’ victory epitomized the intensity of the rivalry, highlighted by a physical, back-and-forth battle punctuated by stunning goaltending from the Hawks Tallon Kramer and the Leafs Billy Gorn.
“The stakes were high, two big rivals on a New Year’s Eve classic,” Gorn told Nelson Star reporter Tyler Harper. “Definitely felt like a playoff game and hopefully we can play every game as hard as we played that one.”
With time almost spent in the opening 4-on-4 overtime period, the Hawks Tyler Ghiradosi lined up to take the faceoff in the Leafs’ zone, and in one motion fired the puck past a surprised Gorn for the game winner with 2.1 seconds left on the clock.
The victory came on the heels of back-to-back wins over the Castlegar Rebels on Wednesday and Friday and gives the 25-4-1-2 Hawks sole possession of top spot in the KIJHL with 53 points. After a 6-2 drubbing on Wednesday, the Hawks went into Castlegar Friday and defeated the Rebels 4-3.
Following a tentative first period where B.V. outshot the Leafs 6-4, Nelson came out with conviction in the middle frame, and capitalized when Mason Mullaney’s quick snapshot beat Kramer up high for a 1-0 Leafs lead. Nelson outshot B.V. 17-5 in the period, but the suitably chastened Nitehawks came out flying in the third. After wiring one off the post, the Nitehawks’ Tyler Hartman gathered the puck and fired it by Gorn off a scramble in front to tie the game at 1-1.
The game went end-to-end with each team missing glorious chances, including in the final minute when Dylan Heppler was stymied by Gorn in close, and Kramer made a stellar save, going post-to-post to rob the Leafs’ forward just before the final buzzer.
Nelson outshot B.V. 31-27 with both Kramer and Gorn named Player of the Game for their respective teams.
On Friday, the Hawks’ power play proved the difference as three extra-man tallies including the game-winner by Heppler at 17:20 of the third period lifted B.V. to a 4-3 victory over the Castlegar Rebels in Castlegar.
The Hawks took a 2-0 lead in the first on goals from Tyler Ghiradosi and Bradley Ross, before Andrew Petten and Everett Hicks tied it in the second period. But Ghiradosi again put the Hawks up converting a Kevan McBean setup for a 3-2 lead with 2:01 to play in the second stanza.
Heppler notched the winner converting a pass from Blake Sidoni less than three minutes into the final frame for a 4-2 lead, with Ed Lindsey rounding out the scoring for the Rebels with five minutes to play.
The KIJHL’s new regular season format was a controversial call earlier this season with the cancellation of inter-conference play. However, the focus on Kootenay Conference foes has intensified and B.V., as the top team in the league, has a bullseye on its jersey every time they go into another team’s rink.
This week will be no different as the Hawks travel to Kimberley on Friday to take on a Dynamiters team currently sitting in second in the Kootenay Conference just three points back of B.V. The Nitehawks then host the Golden Rockets on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and the Grand Forks Border Bruins in a Sunday tilt at the Hawks Nest at 1 p.m.