In front of a packed house at the Hawks Nest on Thursday, the Beaver Valley Nitehawks overcame a 2-0 deficit in the third period to soar back and defeat the Nelson Leafs 4-3 in double overtime to win the Neil Murdoch division semi-final series, four games to one.
Nitehawks forward Spencer McLean would be the overtime hero, taking a pass from Mitch Foyle, skating over the blue line and wiring a shot from the circle top corner on Leaf AP goalie Jason Mailhiot to send the Hawks to the division final at 8:52 of double overtime.
“Foyler just threw a pass at me, and the first thing I thought was just throw it on net, took a slap shot and St. Pierre got his stick on it, and it just went in,” said McLean after the game. “It feels great.”
The OT winner was McLean’s second goal of the game, after scoring to put the Hawks up 3-2 in the third and what looked to be the game winner until Nelson tied it with just 25 seconds remaining in regulation. The double overtime winner ended a physical series that the Leafs, despite a rash of injuries, pushed the Nitehawks to the limit in almost every game, adding another chapter to the bitter rivalry.
“For not having very many guys, they (Nelson) really worked hard,” said Nitehawks coach Terry Jones. “They have some great hockey players, and in some respects I just hate shaking the kids hands, because it’s their last game, and knowing those guys just gave it all they had out there.”
Nelson opened the scoring at 7:28 of the first period. Following a flurry in front of the Hawks net, Leaf defenceman Darnell St. Pierre would take a pass from Rayce Miller at the blue line and wrist a shot through traffic beating Hawk goalie Carson Schamerhorn low to give Nelson a 1-0 lead. The Leafs controlled the play for much of the period, outshooting B.V. 13-10, and with time winding down in the first, 10 seconds after Hawks d-man Reid Anderson was sent off for tripping, Michael Crawford would jump on a rebound in front and fire it top corner to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead with just 20 seconds left in the opening frame.
“They really did a good job keeping us to the outside, and we didn’t work hard enough to get to the net,” said Jones. “They were just really close to us all the time in terms of their defensive support, and so it seemed like every time that we made a pass they had a guy right on us, and we weren’t prepared enough to make the chips and get pucks deep, and get the whole support game going, so full marks to them.”
The Hawks got back on track in the second period, outshooting the Leafs 13-8, but couldn’t beat Mailhiot. But it was a 5-on-3 penalty kill, and an incredible save by Schamerhorn, that was the TSN turning point for the Hawks. Down two men seven minutes into the period, the Leafs had a glorious opportunity to go up 3-0 when Miller sent a cross-ice pass to Crawford who was staring at an open cage, but Schamerhorn robbed the Leafs forward with a diving glove save. The stop would keep the period scoreless, and the Hawks would go into the third down 2-0.
“I was a little bit (worried), and I wasn’t happy with how we were playing,” said Jones. “I mean we weren’t getting anything to the net, and their goalie was playing great, he was seeing everything. We just didn’t have any traffic but you know once we scored the first one I really thought that if we got one we’d be okay.”
David Nemes got the Hawks on the board, breaking in on a 2-on-1 with McKoy Hauk whose shot dribbled over the shoulder of Mailhiot and Nemes would jump on the loose puck to make it 2-1 at 3:26 into the final frame.
Six minutes later, Sam Swanson would send Brayden Horcoff down the left wing and the Prince Rupert native saucered a perfect pass to Tyler Hartman in front who fired it under a diving Nelson goalie to tie it at 2.
Then less than two minutes after tying it, Ross Armour would send a pass across the slot to McLean who wired it from the left side low on Mailhiot to give the Hawks their first lead.
It looked like the Hawks would win it in regulation but with the Leafs in desperation mode and their goalie on the bench, Robson Cramer blasted a point shot through a screen with 25 seconds to play to tie it and force overtime.
Despite the late tying goal, McLean said B.V. was confident going into the third period down two. It wasn’t the first time. The Hawks trailed by two in the third period of Game 2 and came back to tie it before losing their only match in triple overtime 5-4. They also found themselves behind in Game 3 and 4 but rallied for 5-2 and 3-2 victories. But unlike Game 2, McLean would net the OT goal and send the Hawks onto the Murdoch division final.
“In overtime you have to keep throwing it at the net, and we just kept stressing shoot, shoot, shoot,” said Jones. “It deflected off their d-man I think and just caught Jason up a little high, I mean he played great, but it was nice to see Spencer get that. They were snake bit for the first part of the series so it was nice to see them score some big goals.”
The Hawks will now face the winner of the Castlegar Rebels and Spokane Braves series. The Rebels lead the series 3 games to 2 after a 5-2 victory on Thursday, but Jones says he has no preference on who the Hawks play in the division final.
“I just hope they go seven, and goes to like triple overtime in Game 7, that’s what I hope. I mean in Castlegar you have a rivalry, and Spokane they have two pretty good lines and it’s tough to play down there so I don’t care who we play we just have to work on what we do and be ready.”
As for McLean, the Fruitvale native is already looking ahead to the next round.
“It feel awesome right now,” said McLean. “But we have to keep moving forward, we know what we got to do and think about the next round and forget about this one.”
Beaver Valley next plays either the Braves or Rebels on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Beaver Valley Arena.