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Beaver Valley Nitehawks eliminate Nelson Leafs

Nitehawks win in six, will face the Creston Valley Thundercats in Murdoch division final

The Beaver Valley Nitehawks are moving on to the Murdoch Division final.

A 35-save performance from Connor Stojan and a third period power-play goal by defenceman Ethan Grishin proved to be the game winner, as the Nitehawks eliminated the Nelson Leafs in six games with a 6-3 victory at the B.V. Arena on Saturday.

“It’s a pretty personal rivalry for us against these guys, and they were really good competition all series,” said Stojan after the game. “We had to battle every night, and today was not different, we had to fight to the very end.”

After falling 3-2 to the Leafs in Nelson in overtime on Friday in Game 5, the Hawks led the series 3-2 heading to Game 6 in the best-of-seven Neil Murdoch division semifinal.

The Nitehawks held a tenuous 3-2 lead after two periods, when Leafs forward Seamus Boyd was called for tripping 3:44 into the final frame. The Hawks struggled to set up in the Leafs zone, but Grishin knocked down a clearing attempt at the blue line and his shot sailed through traffic and over the blocker of Nelson goalie Frederick Larochelle for a 4-2 lead.

For Beaver Valley Nitehawks coach Terry Jones, after more than 1,100 wins and 27 years behind the bench, “it is never easy” to win a KIJHL playoff series.

“It was a disappointing loss last night, I just didn’t feel we had a great Game 5 and Nelson held on and came up big,” said Jones. “Coming into today, I think the guys were a bit nervous about playing tonight, and the home crowd, we were a little tentative.”

Beaver Valley opened the scoring 3:45 into the first, when Boris Hristov scored on a centering pass from Gavin Tritt.

Nelson replied midway through the period on a Carsyn Crawford deflection from a Bennett Anklewich point shot, then took the lead when Owen McFarlane tipped a slap-pass through the pads of Stojan with 2:23 to play in the first.

The Nitehawks forward Gavin Tritt tied it with 49 seconds left on a nice setup from Ollie Clement and Hristov.

It was a back and forth second period with both goalies coming up big. Larochelle stopped Clement on a breakaway with about six minutes to play, and Stojan returned the favour about a minute later.

However, the Nitehawks capitalized on a late penalty to the Leafs Reid Volcano for boarding. B.V. won the faceoff in the Nelson end, and Grishin fed Tim Josza down low. The Calgary product drove to the net and roofed a shot over the shoulder of the Leafs goalie for a 3-2 lead with 1:50 left in the period.

Josza was out with injury for the opening four games of the series, and his first playoff goal proved pivotal.

“What a great goal by Timmy Josza, it really turned the game around and gave us a lot of confidence,” said Jones. “From there I feel we were energized. You can tell the toll it takes on guys through six games, Timmy came in was fresh and really sharp.”

In a despearate effort to generate some offence, Nelson pulled their goalie with 4:20 to play. This time it paid off, as Leafs forward Ryan Quast lifted a rebound over the glove of Stojan to bring the Leafs within one.

Nelson tried desperately to press for entry into the offensive zone, but the Nitehawks remained disciplined and played tight defensively, with Stojan calmly turning aside shots from the perimeter.

With the Leafs net empty, Hawks forward Ethan Smyth scored two empty netters to send the packed Hawks Nest into a frenzy.

“I was able to exhale a little bit, because you know Nelson is not going away easy, and once that empty netter went in I was able to breathe,” said Stojan.

The B.V. goalie faced 38 shots in net and the Leafs’ 35, with the Nitehawks going 2-for-4 on the power play and 2-for-3 on the penalty kill.

Stojan has been better than good all season, if not spectacular in net, especially in the Game 4 overtime win where he stopped 50 shots in a 4-3 victory.

When asked how he maintains his consistency (.931 SVP, 2.45 GAA), the Grand Prairie product replied.

“Just preparation, and confidence in myself and confidence in my teammates,” said Stojan. “Our defence, our forwards they did a really great job. It was a team effort all series, we played good defensive hockey, and when you play well as a team, you are going to keep a lot of pucks out of the net.”

Beaver Valley now gets set to play the Creston Valley Thundercats for the Murdoch Divison title after taking down the division regular season champion Grand Forks Border Bruins in five games.

Creston is led by Luke Chakrabarti who led the league in scoring with 39 goals and 78 points, and tallied four goals and added two assists in the Cats 8-5 elimination win over the Border Bruins on Friday.

“We know Creston pretty well, since we played them last year in the first round,” said Jones. “We know Luke Chakrabarti is one heck of a player in our league, and he’ll be tough to slow down, but that’s our task in front of us.”

The schedule for the best-of-seven Neil Murdoch final has not yet been released.

Read: Leafs stay alive in Game 5

Read: B.V. takes Game 4 in dramatic OT win over Leafs

Jim Bailey

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