The Beaver Valley Nitehawks face two Neil Murdoch division rivals on the weekend with games going in Nelson tonight and Grand Forks on Saturday.
The Nelson Leafs have lost three in a row, including two straight to a Grand Forks Border Bruins team that have roared to six straight victories. The Bruins beat Nelson in both ends of home-and-home series this past week, with a 2-1 victory in Nelson and a 5-2 drubbing at home in Grand Forks. The Bruins delivered the same fate to the Nitehawks the week before in a pair of 3-2 losses, and are currently tied with the Leafs for third spot in the Neil Murdoch division.
“Grand Forks is the hottest team in the league right now, they’ve won six in a row and they’re a totally different identity and team than they’ve been in the past, and I think they are going to be a team to be reckoned with.” said Nitehawks coach and GM Terry Jones.
The over-riding constant for the 11-11-0-2 Bruins during this stretch has been the stellar play of goalie Anthony Galliart. The 19-year-old Kansas City native has faced 229 shots in those six games and stopped 218 of them for a .952 save percentage and a 1.83 goals against average over that time.
The ‘prairie package’ of Dylan Haney, Chad Grambo and Jordan Robertson have contributed the majority of the offence of late, with Grambo netting four goals and nine points, Haney six goals and nine points, and Robertson five goals and 12 points in the past six matches. Robertson and Haney are Brandon, Man. natives while Grambo hails from Birch Hills, Sask. All three are cast-offs from other junior teams but have embraced the underdog role with the Bruins and flourished. With a top-four finish this year, the Bruins would make the playoffs for the first time in 16 years.
The Nitehawks, meanwhile, won two big games against the Castlegar Rebels last weekend, but did so with a short bench. The Hawks will likely be short again this weekend with injured players Braden Fuller, Sam Swanson, Lyle Frank, and Ryan Neil not expected to return to the line up. Dylan Hepler will be back for Saturday’s game against Grand Forks after serving a two-game suspension for a hit to the head. In their absence, the Hawks will need another complete team effort in order to reap similar results on the weekend.
The 12-10-0-0 Leafs, meanwhile, are a team desperately in need of an identity. Their top scorer, Brendan Smith, is a 20-year-old defenceman who hasn’t played since Oct. 24 because of injury. Trail native Austin Anselmo, also a defenceman, is one of their best players and is second in scoring with nine assists and 12 points; not a good scenario for a team that has scored 32 less goals (63) than the Nitehawks (95), and the only team in the KIJHL with a record over .500 who scores, on average, less than three goals per game.
The Nitehawks will face off againt the Leafs in Nelson at 7 p.m. tonight and in Grand Forks Saturday at 7 p.m.