A combination of good goaltending and poor finish plagued the Hawks in a 1-0 shut-out loss to the Creston Valley Thunder Cats on Friday and a 4-2 setback to the Fernie Ghostriders Saturday night at the Hawks Nest.
“For the most part, we were working hard, but we didn’t work smart,” said Nitehawks coach and GM Terry Jones. “Both games on the weekend we were chasing the games, we gave up early goals and were playing from behind a lot, squeezing the stick a bit more, missing empty nets, which compounds things.”
Following an undefeated October in which the Hawks won nine straight games, B.V. was on the verge of taking over first place in the Neil Murdoch Division and facing two beatable teams at home. But the two losses dropped the Nitehawks to five points back of the Nelson Leafs in the division standings with a game in hand, following home-and-home victories for the Leafs over the Spokane Braves.
“We had some good fortune in the streak, and there was one game we probably should have lost, so those kinds of things balance out throughout the year. I always view losing as really good for us, in terms of teaching us what we need to be better at, and that goes from the coaches on down.”
On Saturday, Brendan Nemes netted a hat trick and Montrose native and Fernie captain Mitch Titus pitched in with three helpers to lead Fernie to a big win over the Hawks.
“I thought we played really well,” said Titus. “I thought we played physical, really well in systems, and buried all our chances. It’s always a bit of motivation coming into Fruitvale and playing in front of the hometown and everything, but at the same time you have to treat it like every other game.”
Nemes scored the winner, netting his second of the night midway through the third period after the Hawks’ Karsten Jang was sent off for hooking. Nemes broke down the left wing and, using the defenceman as a screen, wired a shot by Hawks goalie Liam Coulter for a 3-1 lead.
B.V. beat the Ghostriders 6-0 in their first meeting, but Fernie responded with a 6-4 win at home on Sept. 29. The victory gives Fernie a 5-6-1-1 record, good for fourth place in the Eddie Mountain Division. However, the Ghostriders have as many as five games in hand on division rivals following the tragedy at the Fernie Arena last month where an ammonia leak killed three workers and closed the rink. Titus said the tragedy has brought the team closer together, and, while difficult, has given the Ghostriders’ season even more significance.
“After the tragic accident at Fernie Memorial, we’re using that as motivation, where we’re starting to play for a reason, and it’s really starting to show.”
Nemes opened the scoring on the power play when Titus found the Calgary product alone in front, and Nemes fired it into the open net at 14:21 of the first period.
The Nitehawks replied on their own power play after a hooking call sent Fernie defenceman and another Trail native Derek Green off for two minutes. Pointman Kevan McBean passed to Aidan Browell down low, and the 17-year-old Fruitvale product made an amazing no-look back-pass to Blake Sidoni on the doorstep to tie it at 1-1 at 3:56 as B.V. outshot Fernie 14-6 in the period.
Fernie took a 2-1 lead on a Keelan Saworski blast from the point for another power-play goal 2:22 into the middle frame. B.V. had a number of great opportunities in the second period including a short-handed breakaway by McBean and a wide open look by Christian Macasso but were stymied by Merkl, as the Hawks outshot the Ghostriders 29-14 through two periods.
After Nemes put Fernie up 3-1, Sidoni cut the lead to one just over a minute later on a blast from the right circle. But Nemes completed the hat trick on another pretty setup from Titus for his eighth of the season to ice it for the Ghostriders.
“My line with Saworski and Nemes is really starting to click,” said Titus. “We got a couple defencemen in from the first time we played them and we’re just coming together as a team and it’s starting to get really good.”
The Hawks also lost leading scorer Dylan Heppler early in the game after receiving a hit to the head, and defenceman Conner Seib, who was taken into the boards hard and suffered a knee injury.
B.V. outshot Fernie 38-24 and went 1-for-6 on the power play, while Fernie capitalized three times on seven power-play ops.
“I think our systems broke down a little bit, and we got spread out too much,” said Jones. “We talked about it but those are situations that, based on really good puck movement by Fernie, we have to give them credit … we got spread out a little too much and gave them too much space.”
Tommie McConnachie was named Player of the Game for the Hawks and Nemes for Fernie.
In addition, to Titus and Green, Rossland’s Ethan Jang and Mitch’s brother Owen also play for Fernie.
On Friday, Creston goalie Levi Mitchell stopped all 34 shots for the 1-0 shut-out victory. Justen James scored the game’s only goal with 5:24 to play in the second period to hand the Hawks their first loss in 10 games. The chances were there for the Nitehawks but a combination of bad luck, bad bounces, and inability to capitalize contributed to the losses.
“We had empty nets that were just missed,” added Jones. “At the same time, the goalies made every save they had to and were solid. I thought both teams did a really good job in front of the net clearing pucks, and I didn’t feel we battled hard enough to get to those tough areas and to be open in the tough areas. Those are things we have to be better at, and I think it’s a really good lesson this time of year.”
B.V. outshot Fernie 34-24 with Hawks goalie Owen Sikkes getting the PoG nod, while Mitchell earned the honour for the Thunder Cats.
The Nitehawks are on the road next weekend with games against Golden and Kimberley, before returning home for a Tuesday night tilt against the Spokane Braves at 7 p.m. at the B.V. Arena.