The Beaver Valley Nitehawks head into the final weekend of the KIJHL regular season in a dogfight for first place with the Nelson Leafs.
However, the Neil Murdoch division championship is their’s to lose, if the Hawks, with a record of 37-10-1-2 for 77 points, can win their final two matches of the regular season versus the Spokane Braves tonight and in B.V. on Saturday against the Leafs that presently lead the division with a record of 37-9-1-4 for 79 points.
“I think it’s important that we finish the weekend on a high note, regardless of where we finish we can play a great game and manage to lose, those things can happen,” said Nitehawk coach Terry Jones. “I think if we play well, we’ll like our result and have a good feeling going into next week.”
The Hawks can tie the Leafs in the standings with a win against the Braves, and then take the title with a victory at the Hawks Nest on Saturday. They can even afford a loss against the Braves and the often unpredictable officiating in Spokane, but must beat the Leafs on Saturday regardless. In the event Nelson and Beaver Valley end up in a tie at the end of the regular season, the Hawks would take top spot by virtue of one more win than the Leafs, 38-37.
“Most wins is the first tiebreaker,” said Jones. “It should be head-to-head, but that’s something that has to be changed.”
With a sweep of the Castlegar Rebels last weekend, the Nitehawks kept pace with the Leafs who took two from the Grand Forks Border Bruins. The Nitehawks also helped out the Braves, as the Rebel losses propelled Spokane past Castlegar into third spot in the division. The Rebels and Braves are separated by just one point with their final games going on Friday. A Braves win clinches third spot, however, a loss coupled with a Rebel win over the Border Bruins would give Castlegar the higher placing.
“It’s in their (Spokane’s) hands too, if they win their game they finish third and that will be a great feather in the cap for those guys too.”
The Hawks are almost healthy with Russell Mortlock still out with injury. Mortlock has been an impact player this season with the Hawks, combing skill and physicality in addition to a veteran presence in the room.
“Russell’s an important guys so we definitely need him back, but otherwise we’re pretty healthy,” said Jones. “He’s a big guy and when he’s in the lineup he makes a big difference.”
The Nitehawks and Leafs have battled tooth and nail all year, with the Hawks holding a 4-3 edge in the series, but the very last game of the season might decide it all. On the line is a division title and all-important home-ice advantage in the second round. The Leafs have already booked their spot in the Cyclone Taylor tournament as hosts, so a Nitehawk victory is even more crucial.
“I think at this time our guys got to motivate themselves to be at their best . . . They’re going to be jacked and ready to play, and as a veteran team that’s what we expect both Friday and Saturday night,” added Jones. “Over the course of 52 games we’ve been a really good team and now were trying to not let anything stop us.”