The Beaver Valley Nitehawks completed the first leg of a long journey on Friday capturing the Murdoch division title with a 6-3 victory over the Spokane Braves followed by a 4-3 overtime win over the Castlegar Rebels on Saturday.
“It’s a nice milestone, and it’s kind of cool to have a tangible victory, but our eyes are set on a much higher prize that’s further down the road,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Kevin Limbert.
The Hawks missed out on the division title last year on the final day of the season, but were still playing hockey two months later when they won the Western Canadian championship Keystone Cup on April 20.
As Limbert and the rest of the Hawks realize, the division title is nice “but not that important.”
On Saturday in Castlegar, the Nitehawks’ Taylor Stafford scored the tying goal and overtime winner at 2:34 of the first OT to complete the comeback.
Castlegar jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Cal Owens and a power play marker from Aaron Petten, before the Hawks Braydon Horcoff would reply, finishing a Ross Armour setup to make it 2-1 at 6:23 of the opening period.
However, Castlegar would go up 3-1 five minutes into the middle frame when Petten scored his second of the night. But the Hawks would claw their way back with Ross Armour drawing B.V. within one on a power play at 11:46 of the second with helpers going to Horcoff and Stafford.
The Nitehawks dominated the third outshooting the Rebels 24-11, but it would take over 18 minutes before Stafford beat Rebel goalie Patrick Zubick to tie the game at 3-3 and force OT.
“That was a hard-fought game and they battled us very hard,” said Limbert. “They were very physical with us until we started really moving our feet. They have some big guys on the back end that will really punish you, so we had to make sure it was more of quick game than a brute force struggle.”
Zubick stopped 45 shots in net for Castlegar while Carson Schamerhorn stopped 31 for the Hawks.
In Friday’s match up the Nitehawks power play was firing on all cylinders after going 1-for-20 over a four-game span. The Hawks went 4-for-8 with the extra man on their way to a 6-3 victory, in a physical game that saw Spokane collect 83 minutes in penalties, and B.V. 46.
“It was a pretty gutsy effort,” said Limbert. “We’re trying a few new things, and different combinations and trying to hone that in for the post season. So it (power play) seems to be coming along nicely.”
Horcoff, Armour, and Tyler Hartman all had three-point nights while Drake Poirier got the win in net for B.V. stopping 26 shots on the night.
The Nitehawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead on two goals from Hartman and a single from Spencer McLean, before the Braves Lance Noonen replied on the PP with 31 seconds remaining in the opening period.
Justin Loepker drew Spokane within one but the Nitehawks’ Horcoff restored the two-goal lead at 6:04 of the second period. Spokane’s Dilon Bogart would make it 4-3 on as shorthanded effort, but Ross Armour would score on another power play to make it 5-3 at 4:42. Stafford would ice it early in the third, as the Hawks outshot the Braves 46-29 on the night.
The Nitehawks have a home-and-home with Castlegar this weekend starting Friday at the Hawks Nest at 7:30 p.m., in what could be a preview of the division final. The Hawks close out their regular season with a trip to Grand Forks on Sunday.
As it stands, the Nitehawks will likely play the Nelson Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. Spokane needs one win in its remaining three games to clinch third place over the Leafs. The Braves played the Grand Forks Border Bruins last night, but scores were unavailable at press time.