The Beaver Valley Nitehawks are one game away from celebrating another Neil Murdoch Division title.
Hawks’ forward Michael Hagen scored the game-winning goal and Noah Decottignies earned the shutout in a 3-0 Game 4 victory over the Nelson Leafs on Wednesday at the Beaver Valley Arena.
The Nitehawks dominated from the opening faceoff and suffocated the Leafs offence with a combination of speed, good goaltending, and resilience on the back end.
“We went into it like it was Game 1, a must-win,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Bill Birks. “I think it was a total 20-man effort, blocking shots, good d-zone, and Noah was outstanding, he made some key saves at key times. We had them hemmed in for a bit, kind of let off the gas in the third, but overall it was a pretty good effort.”
Hagen’s goal at 10:32 of the first period stood up as the game winner, as the trio of Hagen, Paul Leroux, and Ryan Crisally manufactured another highlight reel tally to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
“I think Ryan poked it on the wall, and then I just saw we had a 2-on-1 with Paul,” said Hagen after the game. “So I tried skating as fast as I could backdoor, and Paul saucered it on my stick, and I just shot it and it went in.”
Hagen one-timed it top corner, giving Leafs goalie Hunter Young no chance on the play, as the win propelled the Nitehawks to a 3-1 series lead over the number-1 seeded Leafs.
Since, the return of Crisalli from injury for Round 2, the Calgary line has been on a roll using their speed and creativity to create a number of scoring chances every game. The line has compiled 19 points against the Leafs in four games, with Hagen leading all players in the Kootenay Conference in playoff scoring with five goals and 12 assists after a two-point night Wednesday.
“It’s awesome playing with them,” said Hagen. “We had never played together before (in Calgary), but when we started playing together this year, we just kind of clicked. All three of us move the puck pretty well and we got some good shots and it just works out.”
Jared Stocks put the Hawks up 2-0 less than two minutes after Hagen’s tally. Stocks stick-handled over the blue line and, using the Leafs defenceman as a screen, snapped a shot under the blocker of the Nelson goalie, as the Nitehawks outshot the Leafs 12-4 in the period.
The Leafs Jack Karran was called for interference less than a minute into the second period, and the Hawks made them pay. Hagen sent a backdoor pass to Leroux who fired it into the open net for a 3-0 Hawks lead at 18:28.
Beaver Valley found themselves in trouble early in the third period with back-to-back penalties that gave the Leafs a 5-on-3 power play. A determined Hawks PK blocked shot after shot and kept Nelson to the perimeter to kill off the penalty.
“That 5-on-3 kill was huge,” said Birks. “And I don’t think they got a shot on net. I think we probably blocked five or six shots and just forced them, on the D-side of the pucks with good sticks, it was a great effort.”
A minute later, the Hawks were in the box again, but killed off a four-minute penalty, showing poise and character for a young team in a ‘rebuilding year.’ B.V.’s post-season success against Nelson is a significant turn-around from their regular season woes when the Hawks couldn’t buy a win against the Leafs, earning just a tie and an OT loss in six games.
“I think it’s confidence and we’re getting better every game and every practice,” said Birks. “Really from Christmas on we’ve gotten better and better every day to be honest. I know it’s a cliche, but this group is figuring it out. We were a little individualistic at the start in the first 20-25 games, and we’re starting to get the team-game going, it’s fun to watch.”
The Nitehawks are having fun, and the confident group will look to wrap up the Neil Murdoch Division final series at the Nelson and District Rec Complex at 7 p.m. tonight .
“It will be huge (to win in Nelson),” said Hagen. “I don’t think anybody expected us to do this, and we’re using that as momentum to fuel the fire. And winning, especially in the playoffs, has been so much fun.”
The Nitehawks outshot the Leafs 28-16 and were 1-for-4 on the power play and a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
If necessary, Game 6 will go in Fruitvale on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the B.V. Arena.