The Beaver Valley Nitehawks took full advantage of home ice and jumped out to a 2-0 series lead in the Neil Murdoch Division semi-final against the Grand Forks Border Bruins at the Hawks Nest on the weekend.
The Nitehawks skated to a tentative 3-2 victory over the Border Bruins on Friday, then found their stride Saturday with a 7-1 thumping.
“I think last night (Friday), I don’t know if it was nerves, but we didn’t play very well at all,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Bill Birks. “Tonight (Saturday) we came out on fire, buried them early and kept it going. I think everyone on the team had a good game.”
Nitehawks forward Blake Sidoni scored twice in each match, while B.V. captain Sam Swanson made up for sitting out Friday’s game with a three-point night on Saturday. Swanson was suspended for a game for a hit-from-behind assessed in the Hawks final home game against Fernie.
“Feels nice to be back out there for sure,” said Swanson. “The guys had a tough game last night, a little bit of jitters in the first game, but collectively as a whole we really played well tonight. It’s always tough watching from the stands, it doesn’t matter if its playoffs, regular season, or exhibition, you want to be out there.”
Jake Yuris netted what proved to be the winning goal on Saturday, notching his first of the playoffs with 3:25 to play in the opening frame. Kyle Hope worked the puck down low to Mitch Foyle and the Fruitvale native sent a perfect pass to Yuris between the hash marks, who whistled a wrist shot over the blocker of Grand Forks goalie Anthony Galliart to put the Hawks up 2-0.
The win was in stark contrast to Friday’s grinding match where a goal from Sidoni in the final 20 seconds secured a 3-2 B.V. victory.
“We rank them out of three, and everyone was a three tonight,” said Birks. “We worked hard, did a good job blocking shots, our power play was cooking, and our PK was good.”
The Hawks Dylan Kent opened the scoring when his point shot went through a crowd and eluded Galliart less than three minutes in for a 1-0 lead. After Yuris made it 2-0, Sam Swanson set up Sidoni in the slot, who fired it five-hole with 2:33 to play, as B.V. outshot the Bruins 18-5 in the period.
Swanson made it 4-0 at 12:29 of the second period, finishing a pretty three-way passing play from Aiden Browell and Tyler Ghirardosi with a bullet from the high slot. Two minutes later, Grand Forks got on the board on the power play, when a point shot deflected off Chad Grambo’s skate and snuck past Hawks goalie Tallon Kramer.
The Nitehawks endured a rare seven-minute penalty when Damon Kramer was sent off for fighting and an instigator call. But an effective penalty kill combined with timely saves from Kramer killed the Bruins’ advantage and B.V. reclaimed momentum heading into the third period.
“We have to stay disciplined,” said Birks. “I think they got a little momentum in the second period. After whistles, they’d rough it up a little bit and try to take our top guys off their game.”
A power play goal from Tyler Hartman put the Hawks up 5-1 to open the third, and Sidoni’s second of the game and fourth of the series gave the Hawks a five goal lead. The Nitehawks put an exclamation mark on the victory, when Ghirardosi sprung Bradley Ross and Swanson in on a 2-on-1. Ross feathered a cross-crease pass over the defenceman’s stick to Swanson who calmly passed it right back to Ross, and the Trail native tapped it in the open net for the highlight-reel finish.
“It was a good play by Ross, it was a good play by Ghirardosi to get it to him, and then he (Ross) made a nice pass to me,” said Swanson. “The puck was a little bit behind me and I didn’t have a good shot so I just threw it back to him.”
B.V. outshot Grand Forks 53-19 and went 1-for-4 on the power play, while the Border Bruins were 1-for-5. Swanson was player of the game for the Hawks, with Logan Klatt getting the nod for Grand Forks.
In Friday’s game, a four-goal second period locked the game at 2-2, and it stayed that way until Sidoni beat Galliart with 20 seconds remaining in regulation to give the Nitehawks a 3-2 Game-1 win.
Tyler Ghirardosi scored a second period shorthanded tally to put the Hawks up 2-1 before Connor Brennan tied it heading into the third.
B.V. outshot Grand Forks 42-22, with Ross earning player of the game honours for the Hawks and defenceman Alexander Leonidas for the Border Bruins.
Despite the two-game lead, the Nitehawks won’t be taking Grand Forks lightly as the series heads to Boundary country. The Border Bruins beat the Hawks twice this year, and are a different team at home. Grand Forks will also see the return of team MVP Dylan Haney back in the lineup in Game 4 after serving a three-game suspension.
“It’s nice to get up 2-0,” added Birks. “Their backs are up against the wall a little bit, but we can’t take them lightly, they played us tough all year, beat us twice, and they were all good games.”
McKoy Hauck is out of the Nitehawk lineup with an upper body injury, while Nolan Percival will be a game time decision. Hawks goalie Owen Sikkes was also in the stands with a lower body injury and is day-to-day.
Game 3 went in Grand Forks on Monday night but the score was unavailable at press time. Game 4 hits the ice tonight in Grand Forks with the puck drop at 7 p.m.