In a classic battle of Neil Murdoch division foes, the Beaver Valley Nitehawks and Castlegar Rebels renewed their rivalry on Sunday in a fast-paced, intense game that saw the Hawks hold on for a close 3-1 victory.
Coming off a 5-3 win over the Columbia Valley Rockies on Friday, the Nitehawks faced a very different Rebels team than the one they blew out 13-1 in the pre-season.
“We knew it was going to be a different team,” said Hawks assistant coach Bill Birks. “But tonight we had all four lines going. Within three minutes we had all four lines on the ice and banging and that sets the tempo for the rest of the night.”
The Hawks jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first and held on as goalie Brandon Wells came up big stopping all 23 of his 34 shot total in the final two periods.
“Brandon Wells played a hell of a game, their goalie as well, but he (Wells) made a lot of key saves at certain times of the game that swung the momentum back in our favour,” said Birks.
Rookie Dylan Heppler netted the game’s winning goal, notching his third of the season on a 2-on-1 with Jace Weegar to put the Hawks up 2-0.
Weegar broke down the left wing and feathered a perfect pass over the sprawling defenceman to Heppler at the top of the slot. Rebel goalie Joseph McLeod made a tremendous save off Heppler’s initial blast but the Nitehawk forward followed it up and banged in the rebound with just under four minutes to play in the opening period.
The win Sunday extended the Hawks unbeaten streak to six games while dealing the Rebels’ their second loss of the season.
Weegar opened the scoring at 15:17 when Heppler sent a breakaway pass from his own end onto the tape of a streaking Weegar at the Rebel blue line, who walked in and beat McLeod low stick side to put the Hawks up 1-0.
After Heppler’s goal, Castlegar worked the puck to the front of the Hawks net, and Mike Bhatos spun and slapped the loose puck past Wells with 53 seconds to play in the first.
Yet, the Hawks refused to go into the second period satisfied with a one goal lead, and replied when Tyler Hartman deflected in a Evan Gorman point shot with eight seconds remaining in the period.
The Hawks outshot the Rebels 19-11 in the first. But the goaltenders shut the door after that, making several big saves in the second and third to keep the score 3-1, as the intensity ramped up in the end-to-end thriller.
Wells was particularly stellar in the third, when Castlegar outshot B.V. 13-11. He made a series of goal-line saves then slid across, robbing the Rebels forward on a 2-on-1 pass with just over five minutes remaining to preserve the two-goal lead.
“I knew he was coming across, and he didn’t have time to put it up top, so I was just worried about covering the bottom corner, and yeah, I got lucky,” Wells said after the game.
The Spirit River, Alta. native played his first game with the Hawks in the 13-1 exhibition blowout, and he expected a different Rebels team Sunday.
“That was my first game with Beaver Valley and it was kind of an eye opener, but tonight they came to play.”
B.V. outshot Castlegar 40-34 with Wells and McLeod named the game’s stars.
“When you’re facing the top team (B.V.) . . . you always bring your best game,” said Birks. “But give credit to our guys we played a full 60 minutes tonight and it was well deserved.”
On Friday, the Nitehawks again jumped out to an early lead, going up 3-0 in the first on their way to a 5-3 victory over Columbia Valley.
Tyler Hartman got the Hawks on the board at 13:37, and Heppler made it 2-0 taking a Lyle Frank pass at the top of the slot and firing it low stick side on Rockies goalie Giovanni Sambrielaz.
Then with 1:15 remaining in the period, Devin Nemes walked in and fired a long shot over the blocker of Sambrielaz to make it 3-0, as B.V. outshot the Rockies 17-7.
The Rockies regrouped and came out flying in the middle frame. Colton Robb beat Drake Poirier 41 seconds in to make it a two-goal game. The Pruss brothers, however, tallied the winner at 15:57 on a pretty passing play with Michael making no mistake on Allan’s gift in front to make it 4-1. Layne Hunter pulled the Rockies back within two before the period was out, and the teams exchanged goals in the third with Weegar tipping in a Jake Yuris point shot to round out the scoring for B.V.
Drake stopped 26 of 29 shots on the night, while the Hawks fired 42 at Sambrielaz. Yuris counted two helpers and Heppler finished with a goal and an assist.
The wins set up important divisional weekend tilts against Nelson, 3-3-0-0, and Spokane, 1-4-0-3, on Friday and Saturday respectively.
“The division is going to be tight,” said Birks. “Castlegar’s going to have a good team, Nelson had a rough weekend but they’re right there, Spokane played us tough the first game of the season, but we have to keep the status quo, and keep getting better and better.”
Teams will be gunning to knockoff the only undefeated team in the KIJHL, and the Hawks have to be prepared for the opposition’s best effort every night, added Birks.
It’s a position the new coach is only too happy to be in, with a team he’s proud to be a part of.
“It’s been awesome,” said Birks. “Terry runs a hell of a program here, and now that you are on the inside and looking at it, it’s top notch and you understand why he has good teams every year. He runs it very, very well.”
The Nitehawks next home game goes Saturday versus Spokane at 7:30 p.m.