The Beaver Valley Nitehawks ended a challenging season on a winning note on Saturday, defeating the Nelson Leafs 3-2 in overtime at the B.V. Arena.
With the win, the Nitehawks finish the season in third place in the Neil Murdoch Division with 59 points and a 27-15-2-3 record, but have made the playoffs every one of the 21 years coach Terry Jones has been at the helm.
“It’s been an interesting year,” said Jones. “It’s been a year just dealing with adversity, with injuries all year long. It just hasn’t stopped, so finishing the season on a highnote with a win is a great way to go.”
Nitehawks leading scorer Dylan Heppler capped off a great season with two goals including the OT winner, when he jumped on a banked pass off the boards from Dylan Kent, and broke in all alone, wiring a shot past Nelson goalie Caiden Kreitz at 3:18 of the first overtime. The 20-year-old Warner, Alta. native scored 25 goals and 54 points in 46 games this season and earned the team’s Top Scorer award and the Bill Voplatti Memorial Award of Merit at the Nitehawks year-end banquet on Sunday.
Typical of their season, the Hawks were without ailing d-men Jake Yuris and Kevan McBean in Saturday’s match, and have fought the injury bug all season with only two players, Bradley Ross and Aidan Browell, suiting up for all 47 games this year.
“It’s been tough, but we look forward to next week and the playoffs and getting Kevan and Jake back in the lineup, and we’ll be at full strength for a while,” said Jones.
The team’s top rookie, Aiden Jenner, opened the scoring at 7:31 with assists to Erik Bocale and Angus Amadio. However, Leafs’ affiliate player Marty Ingram notched his second goal in a green jersey to tie it with 1:56 to play in the opening frame.
Nicholas Wihak netted a power-play goal to put Nelson up 2-1 at 16:04 of the second period, but Heppler tied it 2-2 at 8:54 on a setup from Kent.
The third period remained scoreless in a physical match up that saw the Nitehawks outshoot the Leafs 34-25, and go 0-for-3 on the power play, while Nelson was 1-for-4.
The Nitehawks open the KIJHL playoffs against the 30-13-1-2 Castlegar Rebels on Friday. The last time the team’s met, Beaver Valley defeated the Rebels in back-to-back games on Jan. 5 and 6 and won 5-of-8 over the Rebels in their season series.
“We haven’t played them (the Rebels) in a while, but throughout the course of the season – even though we finished well below them in the standings – we felt like we’ve given them a good battle all through the year, it’s been pretty tight and contested and the games pretty close all the way through so now we hope the habits that we’ve learned and built upon and the mental battles that we’ve learned how to win as well, hopefully all that equals playoff success.”
The Nelson Leafs meanwhile face the Grand Forks Border Bruins, after the Bruins eliminated a determined Spokane Braves team on Friday by losing in overtime. The single point picked up by the Bruins for an OT loss was all they needed to finish ahead of the Braves in the Murdoch Standings by one point and earn the fourth seed.
The Nitehawks had their share of ups and downs all year, going unbeaten in October, then winning just twice in November, and getting mixed results through much of December. B.V. broke into the new year with a strong January going 7-1-0-1, before a tepid 3-2-0-1 finish in February, but should be back to full strength come the start of playoffs Friday.
Despite the mixed results, the Nitehawks team has grown stronger and closer due to the adversity, and is confident going into the playoffs.
“I really love our guys,” said Jones. “I think we have a great group of guys, and I think we’ve learned a lot and grown together. I’m optimistic to see how far these guys can go. You get some momentum in the playoffs, you get feeling good about yourself, you never know how things can go. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what these guys are going to bring.”
Game 1 of the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal between the Nitehawks and Rebels goes at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Castlegar Rec Centre.