The Beaver Valley Nitehawks will face Kootenay rival the Nelson Leafs in the KIJHL’s best-of-seven Murdoch Division final.
After trailing three-games-to-two, the Leafs won Game 6, then beat a determined Spokane Braves team 6-2 in Game 7 of their semifinal series on Wednesday in Nelson. The win comes on the heels of a tough, Twitter-fuelled, seven-game tilt between the two teams. Yet, despite the bitter battle, the Leafs coach was magnanimous in the end.
“Kudos to Spokane,” Leafs head coach Mario DiBella told the Nelson Star. “For the shortened bench … they were full measure. They gave us all we could handle. They played from Game 1 drop of the first puck to Game 7, right at the very end.”
The Nitehawks meanwhile dispatched the Grand Forks Border Bruins in four straight and have enjoyed a much-needed rest for its injury-plagued line up.
“We know in our history, that when you finish in four or five you have a way better chance of being fresher and ready for the next round,” said Nitehawks head coach Terry Jones. “That’s just normal. It helps and it helps us get closer to getting some of those guys back in our line up.”
The Nitehawks missed four of its top players throughout the first round. Angus Amadio, Jake Yuris, Ryan Crisalli, and Jesse Ihas are all out and their return is uncertain. Forwards Crisalli and Amadio combined for 83 points this season, while the Hawks back end has missed the presence and poise of veteran captain Yuris and the energy of rookie Ihas. Power forward and co-captain Morgan Peace was lost for the final two games also with injury.
“You want to manage the injuries so it doesn’t happen again, that’s what you want to get to,” said Jones. “But we’re hopeful of getting there sooner rather than later.”
Beaver Valley has had its problems with the Leafs this season, going winless in their six-game series with one tie and an overtime loss, and being outscored 28-17. Yet, the seven-game battle against the Braves took a lot out of the Leafs tank and will likely work in the Nitehawks’ favour
“It sounds like it has been a really physical and emotional series, and I know what the toll is on that, it’s tiring. It’s tiring just being a coach and the travel back and forth.”
Despite their line-up losses, the Hawks players elevated their game against the Border Bruins, and received exceptional performances from affiliate players Dayton Nelson, Jarred Macasso, and Zachary Park.
Backed by solid goaltending from Noah Decottignies and potentially, Saran Virdee, the Nitehawks have played inspired hockey early in the real season and will look to continue that against the Leafs.
“They (Nelson) are a team on a roll,” said Jones. “They’ve been through something, and when you get through that, you never know which way it’s going to go.
“What I like about our team is the way we played as a team. We really showed at times some real maturity and our play as a team. We really grind it out, we really controlled the play, stayed discipline, and so all of those things are really good ingredients to start the next round of playoffs.”
The Neil Murdoch Division final goes in Nelson on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m., with Games 3 and 4 scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday at the Beaver Valley Arena at 7 p.m.