The Beaver Valley Nitehawks cooled down the Chase Heat in Game 1 of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) final with a 6-3 win in the best-of-five championship series on Monday at the Hawks Nest.
The teams hit the ice again Tuesday night for Game 2 in B.V., but the score was not available at press time.
The win was a good start for the Nitehawks, playing against a relatively unknown entity in a Chase team that was coming off three straight dramatic wins to eliminate Osoyoos in the Okanagan-Shuswap Conference final.
“You have to win games in all sorts of manners, and tonight wasn’t our best effort, but we got the job done when we needed to,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Jeremy Cominotto. “We scored timely goals and it’s a momentum game and we were able to get it back when we needed to.”
The Hawks and Heat came out tentative in the first, but soon B.V. showcased its speed when Sam Swanson blew by the Heat defencemen five minutes in, only to be stymied by Chase goalie Nic Bruyere. Nolan Percival played his heart out all night, but couldn’t capitalize as he misfired looking at an open net early in the period. But minutes later, B.V.’s Tyler Ghirardosi broke in and fired a tight shot that bounced off Bruyere’s arm and a trailing Tyler Hartman tapped in the airborne puck for a 1-0 Hawks’ lead.
A sizeable Chase squad with talent up front generated opportunities in the Nitehawks end but Hawks goalie Tallon Kramer was in a rhythm and couldn’t be beat as the Heat outshot the Hawks in the opening frame 12-11.
“We knew what we were up against with this hockey team, this is a very well-balanced hockey team from top to bottom,” said Chase head coach Brad Fox. “So for us to come in here and steal the first game we were going to have to play really good hockey, and for 200 feet on both sides of the puck. I felt that they were just better than us down low in the offensive zone. I thought they did a better job defending and we made too many mistakes, and that hockey team is too good to make mistakes.”
The second period was a different story as the ice opened up and the two teams exploded for six goals.
Hawks defenceman Jake Yuris started the outburst, blasting a shot through traffic to put B.V. up 2-0 at 17:33.
After Travis Beaubien was called for slashing, the B.V. power play went to work. Dylan Heppler took a pass from Hawks d-man Ryan Terpsma down low and lifted a shot that rolled over Bruyere’s shoulder and across the goal line, but with Hawks forward Mitch Foyle tracking the puck from behind the net, he reached around and put it in at the far post at 14:31.
The Nitehawks looked poised to run away with the match, but the Heat fired back. Less than a minute later, Zachary Fournier burst down the left side, and wired a snapshot over Kramer’s glove to make it 3-1. Then at the midway point of the period, Michael Fidanza forced a giveaway behind the Nitehawks net and fed Josh Bourne on the doorstep to bring the Heat to within one.
“We knew that they were going to be a hard-working team, we know their coaching staff and we knew what they’re all about,” said Cominotto. “We have to be better, but nerves could have played a factor, we did some things well, and others not very well at all, so we just have to continue to get better.”
The Nitehawks responded with a quick rush up the middle from Dylan Heppler, who again was stopped by the Heat’s goalie. On the next shift, Bradley Ross and Damon Kramer broke in on a 2-on-1. Ross fed Kramer with a perfect pass over the d-man’s stick to send him in solo, but the Grande Prairie native was stymied by Bruyere with a great pad save, only to have Ross follow up and lift the rebound over the sprawling netminder for what proved to be the game winner.
The Hawks kept coming and 82 seconds later, Sam Swanson took a feed from Kyle Hope in the high slot and wired it by Bruyere to restore the three-goal cushion. The Hawks outshot the Heat 17-12 in the period, and led 5-2 heading into the final stanza.
With the Heat looking primed for another comeback, Bourne was sent in on a breakaway two minutes into the period, but this time Kramer shut the door on the deke.
The Heat refused to quit, and Beaubien knocked in a rebound in a scramble in front of the Hawks net with 2:59 to play to draw Chase within two. However, with the goalie pulled, Kramer came up big, and Swanson sent one into an empty net with 29 seconds to play for the Game 1 victory.
“The first period was a feeling out process,” said Swanson. “We hadn’t seen that team before . . . and they’re tough to play against. They’re a big, strong team, but if we use our speed it shouldn’t be a problem. Getting the first win in a series is big, especially a best of five.”
The Nitehawks outshot Chase 35-31 with Kevan McBean earning player of the game honours for B.V. and Fidanza for the Heat. B.V. went 1-for-2 on the power play while the Heat was 0-for-2. Swanson finished with two goals and an assist, while Hartman picked up a goal and two assists. Ghirardosi and Hope counted two assists each for the Hawks, Fidanza and Cody Hodges had two assists for the Heat.
“Now that we’ve seen each other, I think our guys are going to be a lot more comfortable,” said Cominotto. “We don’t really have anything to be nervous about, you still have to hit the ice for 60 minutes.”
Whether the Hawks or up 2-0 or the series is tied 1-1 after Tuesday’s match, no one should count Chase out. The Heat have had an amazing playoff run and comeback-series win over the Coyotes, fighting from an early 2-0 deficit to win two straight in OT, before capturing the conference title in the fifth and deciding game.
“We’ve found a way to get back to what we do well and do right,” said Fox. “Tonight (Monday) we didn’t. We dug ourselves a hole and these guys defend too well. We didn’t simplify things, we tried to complicate it . . . It’s a different series, we’re playing for a league championship now and you got to lay it on the line.”