The Cyclone Taylor Cup is back in Beaver Valley as the Nitehawks quelled the Campbell River Storm in Creston on Sunday night in the Cup final.
The 67th game and 56th win of the Nitehawks’ season was the biggest one to date as B.V. hoisted the Cyclone Taylor Cup trophy for the fourth time in their 35-year history after beating Campbell River 6-2.
“It was unbelievable,” said head coach and GM Terry Jones. “So much work that goes into it and pretty unbelievable. It’s just so hard, so competitive. Guys have to play through injury, and I thought that every single guy made a contribution to our team and to winning, it’s just fantastic.”
Nitehawks forward Dylan Heppler scored twice and Tallon Kramer stopped 26 shots in net as the Hawks fell behind early, but stormed back to retake the lead and dominate Campbell River in the closing two periods.
“We got behind early, and we didn’t panic,” said Jones. “Both times when we gave up the second goal as well, both times we could have panicked but we responded with quick goals and the two goals by (Dylan) Heppler in the first period were just big goals.”
After a turnover at center ice, Hawks’ defenceman Jake Yuris hit Hawks forward Blake Sidoni with a pass, and the tournament MVP burst by the defender and wired a shot from the top of the slot past Storm starting goalie Chris Smith for a 3-2 Nitehawks lead with 2:08 to play in the first period.
The winning goal capped off an exciting round-robin tournament that saw all four teams go into the third and final game on Saturday with a 1-1 record. The VIJHL Storm beat out the PJHL’s Aldergrove Kodiaks, 2-1 in overtime, while the KIJHL Nitehawks beat the host Creston Valley Thunder Cats, 6-2, on Saturday on the strength of a hat trick from Kyle Hope to advance to Sunday’s final.
A rested Cats team beat Aldergrove in their opening match 2-1 before falling to Campbell River 6-2 on Friday.
The Hawks started the tournament strong with a 6-0 shut out of Campbell River on Thursday, but lost their second match 5-3 to Aldergrove on Friday, which turned out to be a positive for the Hawks coach.
“I think against Aldergrove … when your season is on the line it’s one thing, but ours wasn’t on the line and theirs was, and once they got the lead, we started chasing the game a little bit and got behind,” explained Jones. “I think it really helped us because, our last two games, it really focused us to be our best … That loss made us better.”
Campbell River got off to a fast start with Pearce Messer beating Kramer 28 seconds into the first period for a 1-0 lead. The Hawks answered at 3:44 when Heppler notched his first of the night on a setup from Nolan Percival and Sidoni. The Storm reclaimed the lead just over a minute later when Carter Hikichi netted a shorthanded marker, but the Hawks Heppler tied it 2-2 at 10:29, and Sidoni’s second goal of the tournament put the Hawks up for good.
“This was a tough one,” said B.V. goalie Kramer after the game. “It was a bit of a rough start, the first shot of the game goes in and shortly after another one, but we’ve been resilient all year, been down 4-0, 5-0, and we’ve comeback a few times so we knew if we just stuck with it we’d be fine.”
The Nitehawks Karsten Jang jumped up in the rush with Tyler Ghirardosi who fed Jang and the Hawks d-man sniped one under Smith’s arm to make it 4-2, 4:39 into the second period. Five minutes later, Yuris head-manned the puck to Ghirardosi, who saucered a pass to Bradley Ross, and the Trail native snapped it by Smith for a 5-2 Hawks lead.
A smothering Nitehawks forecheck stole the Storm’s thunder in the final two frames by hurrying the Campbell River defence and forcing multiple turnovers. When the Storm did break through, Kramer came up big, making a sprawling pad save on former Smoke Eater Sheldon Brett at the edge of the crease to close out the second period, and robbing Aaron Brewer with the glove late in the final stanza. Percival added an empty netter in the final minute to complete the scoring for the Hawks.
“Our forecheck, we really got things going in a positive direction, and at the end of the game, they couldn’t get anything going,” said Jones. “We were working so hard and we just didn’t give up anything.”
The Hawks held the Storm to just eight shots in the third period, outshooting Campbell River 32-28 with Heppler being named player of the game, and Sidoni earning the MVP honour for the tournament with two goals and four assists.
The Nitehawks victory duplicates Jones’ 2014 Nitehawks team’s success. Led by captain Archie McKinnon, forwards Ryan Edwards and Dallas Calvin, and Sidoni’s brother Walker, the team won the Cyclone in Nelson and went on to capture its one-and-only Keystone Cup in Victoria.
“It’s hard to compare, but this team sure ranks with any of the teams we’ve had. We just don’t have the true superstar guy. We have different guys that show up every night, and I think if our players were on other teams they would be superstar calibre guys, but they really bought into the team concept and I think that makes a big difference.”
Beaver Valley will look for its second Keystone Cup as they get set to hit the pavement today for the Western Canadian championship in Ardborg, Man. The quest for the Keystone starts on Thursday and wraps up on Monday.
“We’re just really excited to win our last game of the year, and really proud of the guys, they competed like champions and my staff was amazing, the coaching staff did a great job,” added Jones. “Pretty exciting day for all the Nitehawk family.”
In Sunday afternoon’s bronze medal game, the Thunder Cats defeated Aldergrove 3-0, backstopped by goaltender Brock Lefebvre’s second shutout of the tournament.