In a thrilling Game 4 match up, the Beaver Valley Nitehawks would overcome a 1-0 deficit and a series of shorthanded situations to beat the Nelson Leafs 2-1 in overtime and take a 3-1 lead in the Neil Murdoch division final.
“We kind of have mixed emotions over that one,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Jamie Cominotto. “We probably played the worst period of hockey in the first, but just got better as it went along.”
Nitehawk forward Jacob Boyczuk scored the winner with 1:32 remaining in the first 10-minute overtime period. Boyczuk picked up a blocked Sam Swanson shot at the top of the circle, and wired it over the blocker of Leafs’ goalie Patrick Zubick to send a capacity Beaver Valley crowd into delirium.
“That is 100 per cent the biggest goal I’ve ever scored for the Nitehawks,” said Boyczuk following the game. “I saw a shot happen and the puck bounce out, I saw a guy diving at me so I kind of pulled it in a bit, and just let her rip.”
It was the 19-year-old Trail native’s first goal of the playoffs to go along with six assists, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We knew we were going to have to battle with the refs there at the end so we just decided we got to sell out block everything we can and keep everything off our net as we can, until we got the opportunities to score ourself,” said Boyczuk.
Following a scoreless first period, Trail native Jamie Vlanich would open the scoring for the Leafs at 17:03 of the second on a power play, sending a wrist shot from the point that made its way through traffic and over the shoulder of Hawks goalie Brett Clark.
Nelson dominated the Hawks in the early going outshooting B.V. 12-6 in the first period, and continued to pressure in the second. Ironically, it would be a pair of Hawks’ penalties on the same play to Braden Fuller for slashing and Dallas Calvin for unsportsmanlike conduct at 13:50 of the second that would turn the game around.
Down two-men the Nitehawks’ penalty killers kept the Leafs’ power play unit to the perimeter and when the Leafs did find an opening Clark would come up big, emerging from the 5-on-3 unscathed.
“Our penalty kill has been so good in the playoffs, guys are committing they’re blocking shots, they’re really buying in,” said Cominotto. “That first 5-on-3 in the middle of the second period really turned the momentum of the game. We were pretty flat before that and then we turned it around, so I thought that was really a positive thing. It was absolutely a turning point for us.”
The Nitehawks would reply on a rare power play of their own before the period was out. Fuller worked hard behind the net to gain control of the puck and sent a quick pass to Archie McKinnon who backhanded it through the pads of Zubick to tie the game 1-1.
B.V. seized control in the third, firing 15 shots at Zubick who kept the Leafs in the game robbing the Hawks on numerous occasions.
Nelson would enjoy power plays late in the third, when Fraser Stang was called for slashing with 1:43 to play, and again in the overtime period when a delay of game call put Calvin in the box at 9:16. But the Hawks would kill both penalties and return with pressure in the Leafs’ end, until Boyczuk, a former Leaf, iced it with 92 seconds remaining in the extra frame.
“Discipline has been a big topic of ours, and we battled through some things tonight. I think our guys did a good job, they kept their mouths closed, they got a penalty, they went to the box. That’s all you can do. You are not going to change the ref’s decision he calls what he sees,” said Cominotto.
The Leafs went 1-for-8 on the power play, while the Nitehawks were 1-for-2. B.V. outshot Nelson 40-36 on the night, with Clark getting the win for the Hawks in another solid effort. The Grande Prairie native leads all goalies in the playoffs with a microscopic 1.33 goals against average and a .954 save percentage.
The Nitehawks can close out the series on Thursday in Nelson but Cominotto has no illusions that Nelson will roll over in Game 5.
“We have to play 60 minutes, we didn’t do that tonight, we got lucky tonight,” said Cominotto. “They are a good team and they are going to be desperate. They want to win on home ice, and we don’t want to come back here, we want to win it in Nelson Thursday night. We got to come out, be ready to play 60 minutes of our brand of hockey.”
As for Boyczuk the overtime goal was the highlight of the season, and has given the Hawks a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.
“We have a lot of confidence, the boys in the dressing room. I got a good feeling about where we are going after this, and we’re really excited.”
The puck drop for Game 5 goes in Nelson on Thursday at 7 p.m.
KIJHL Notes: The Kimberley Dynamiters took a surprising 3-1 lead on the number-one seed Creston Valley Thundercats with a 6-3 victory on Tuesday. The Dynamiters can win the Eddie Murdoch division title tonight in Creston.
Osoyoos Coyotes took a 3-1 series lead over the N. Okanagan Knights with a 10-0 victory, and the Kamloops Storm won 5-2 over the 100-Mile House Wranglers to go up 3-0 in the Doug Birks division series.