In what was touted as a potentially epic series, lived up to its billing and perhaps even surpassed it.
Game 7 between the Beaver Valley Nitehawks and Castlegar Rebels for the Neil Murdoch Division Thursday was a fitting end to a simply incredible series. It is a shame that one of the two top team’s season in the KIJHL had to end, and this year it was Castlegar who succumbed to the Nitehawks 5-3.
Just like the series, the game was tied 3-3 heading into the third period, with both teams looking for an advantage. The Nitehawks held the majority of chances in the third but Castlegar had the best scoring opportunity. Midway through the period the Rebels broke out on a 3 on 1, as one forward went wide he slid the pass cross-crease to a breaking Tyler Robinson but Hawks goalie Mike Vlanich slid across and robbed him with his right pad.
“Mike (Vlanich) was incredible, he did a hell of a job tonight to keep us in it,” said Hawks coach Terry Jones after the game.
The Nitehawks continued to pressure yet were unable to get one by Jordan Gluck. But with 3:08 remaining, Justin Niminiken grabbed possession of the puck in the Rebels corner, passed it to Mason Spear who slid it by Gluck for the winning goal as the crowd exploded.
Castlegar fought back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to dramatically tie the series and started Tuesday, and started the first period in the same fashion. The Rebels kept the Nitehawks off balance in the first out-shooting them 17-6. Erik Alden started the scoring for the Rebels three minutes in, when he snapped a shot that deflected off the defenceman and arc over the shoulder of Vlanich.
The Rebels kept coming, adding another after a bad give away in the Hawks zone sent Robinson in all alone. He snapped a shot top shelf that put the Rebels up 2-0 heading into the second period.
“We had a horrendous first period, we were awful and it could have been 5-0 if it wasn’t for Vlany.”
The Rebels continued to press in the early minutes of the second but a great save by Vlanich on a 2 on 1 seemed to change the momentum. After the Rebels received a penalty, the line of Mason Spear, Justin NIminiken and Christian Johnson worked the puck in tight before Nick Perez gathered it in and fired it home.
A minute later, Craig Martin broke out of the Nitehawks zone and saw Edwards breaking. The rookie hit him with a perfect pass and Edwards made no mistake as he walked in and beat Gluck glove side.
The Hawks continued to pressure and seemed to take the lead after a shot lay at the feet of Gluck. Dallas Calvin banged it in but was disallowed when the referee lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle.
Nevertheless, with 2:14 to go in the period, the hardwork of the Niminiken, Spear and Johnson line paid off again, as Spear converted a pass from Niminiken to put the Hawks up 3-2.
“The line of Nimi, Spear and Johnson just played their hearts out tonight and the deserve it, they came through for us huge,” said Jones.
The Rebels however tied it before the period was out when Robinson put in his second of the night during a scramble in front of a sprawling Vlanich to tie it at three.
The Hawks would add an empty netter with 12 seconds remaining to seal it and will jump right into the next round against Fernie at home on Saturday.
“Castlegar is a huge monkey off our backs,” said Jones. “They are such a good team. We’ll enjoy the win tonight and think about Fernie tomorrow.”
KIJHL playoffs: The Fernie Ghostriders defeated Kimberley 6-2 Wednesday to take the division title in seven games. Likewise the Sicamous Eagles surprised the number two seed Storm from Kamloops with a 4-2 victory in their Game 7 tilt.
Amazingly, the two number four seeds, Kelowna Cheifs and Sicamous will face off in the Okanagan/Shuswap final.