The Beaver Valley Nitehawks host the Nelson Leafs on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Beaver Valley Arena. Jim Bailey photo

Beaver Valley Nitehawks return to nest for tilt against Nelson

After more than three weeks on the road, the Nitehawks return home for a game against the Leafs

The Beaver Valley Nitehawks play their first home game in over three weeks, and after a tough November, will look to reboot for the coming New Year.

Beaver Valley hosts the Nelson Leafs at the B.V. Arena tonight in what is the Nitehawks’ first game back in the Hawks Nest since Nov. 14.

“It’s an important game,” said Nitehawks coach and GM Terry Jones. “We’ll look forward to a good week of practice and build upon our last game against Spokane. But at the same time, it’s an important game because we are facing the top team in our division and an opportunity to continue to re-find our game. So I think it’s a big step in the confidence of our team.”

Beaver Valley was buoyed by the return of captain Sam Swanson in a 5-2 win over Spokane, but are still missing key components in defenceman Kevan McBean and Conner Seib, and forward Morgan Peace. The Hawks also lost the services of another d-man Darian Fuller, who returned home due to personal reasons.

The Hawks, however, made a deal with the Vancouver Island Jr. Hockey League’s Campbell River Storm sending the rights of Carson Schamerhorn to the Island in exchange for defenceman Erik Bocale and futures.

Bocale, a Surrey native, is a five-foot-10, 180-pound blueliner, who contributed two goals and 10 points in 23 games with the Storm this season. Bocale played two years in the PIJHL with the Aldergrove Kodiaks and Delta Ice Hawks prior to heading to the Island. His acquisition is a big step in shoring up a severely depleted Hawks’ defence.

“It seems like we get one guy back, then we lose two guys to sickness or injury or something,” said Jones. “It’s been a revolving door of injury and sickness and so we have another one-game weekend and hopefully we can slowly get back to health here.”

Nelson leads the Murdoch Division with a 19-5-1-1 record, but are coming off two straight losses to a surging Castlegar Rebels team that now trails the Leafs by just four points.

The Leafs’ two most dangerous attackers have been Nelson native Sawyer Hunt and rookie Ryan Cooper each with 25 points. Josh Williams, a 20-year-old goaltender, bounced around the Alberta Junior Hockey League the past two seasons before settling in Nelson. The Calgary native has 12 wins in 15 starts and sports the best GAA, 1.67, and save percentage, .945, in the league.

The Nitehawks Dylan Heppler leads the team in scoring with 14 goals and 32 points but has endured a five-game goal-scoring drought. Yet, goals were hard to come by for everyone in November as B.V. counted just 24 tallies compared to 36 in October. The Hawks scored 13 goals in two games against Golden and Spokane, but just 11 goals in the other seven games combined. Those losses came against the top teams in the Murdoch and Eddie Mountain division, as the Hawks suffered two losses each to the Rebels and the Kimberley Dynamiters, and were shut out by the Creston Thunder Cats on Nov. 3.

“We had a lot of adversity, in terms of our injuries and the schedule, and we also faced hungry, hungry teams who are playing the champions of the league the previous year, and are pretty fired up to play against us,” said Jones. “Our mettle has been tested, and it’s shown us the weaknesses in our group and where we need to improve.”

Special teams has been key to the Nitehawks success, and they own the best power play in the league, scoring on 28 per cent of its opportunities. However, the team’s penalty kill sputtered last month with a 76 per cent kill ratio, compared to 93 per cent up to that point.

“The biggest thing that faltered was our penalty kill, and it really struggled during that time,” said Jones. “That to me is the number-one thing, but it goes with the personnel we are missing. We’re missing some great penalty-killing players.”

A big loss up front, but a positive one for the Nitehawks fraternity, was that of physical forward Blake Sidoni who was signed by the Trail Smoke Eaters last week. An imposing presence, Sidoni was also a strong contributor offensively scoring 45 points in 42 games in last season’s Cyclone Taylor Cup run, and 15 points in 19 games this year, with 41 penalty minutes.

“We’re really proud of Blake,” said Jones. “He worked really hard in the off-season, so it’s great that he’s able to get himself to the next level and nothing can make us happier.”

At the top of the Nitehawks Christmas wish-list is a healthy line up, as they get set to skate into another tough schedule in December full of all-Murdoch-Division match ups with three games against the Leafs, two more versus Spokane, and single matches against Castlegar and Grand Forks.

“I’m a firm believer that losing is a very important part of winning,” added Jones. “But you also have to give credence to the other teams and their play. Castlegar has played some excellent hockey, Nelson’s been on a good roll, Kimberley’s been a good team. We faced a really good Creston team, teams that are the top in our league, and also playing well, so all of that put together, it tests us and it makes us work a little bit harder, and I like that challenge.”

B.V. and Nelson split their previous two games this season, with Nelson winning the season opener 1-0 and the Nitehawks defeating the Leafs 2-1 on Oct. 6.

The puck drop for the Nitehawks-Leafs game goes at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Beaver Valley Arena.

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