The Beaver Valley Nitehawks handed out team hardware at their awards banquet at the Riverbelle on Monday

The Beaver Valley Nitehawks handed out team hardware at their awards banquet at the Riverbelle on Monday

KIJHL: Nitehawks primed for playoffs

Close to 140 Beaver Valley Nitehawks executive, players, coaches, and supporters gathered for the annual awards banquet on Monday.

The Beaver Valley Nitehawks wrapped up the regular season on the weekend, and celebrated its Neil Murdoch division title with its annual awards banquet on Monday at the Riverbelle.

Close to 140 Beaver Valley Nitehawks executive, players, coaches, and supporters gathered for a great Italian meal, and to share memories and swap stories about the Nitehawks’ season and recognize the efforts of its players and volunteers.

The Hawks ended the season on a high note with an 8-4 win in Grand Forks Sunday, following a split with Castlegar Rebels on Friday and Saturday. The victory gives the Hawks 35 wins and 75 points on the regular season and their first division title since 2011-12 when they were tops in the KIJHL regular season with 87 points, and went on to capture the KIJHL championship.

“I’m pleased with the season, and happy where we are,” said Nitehawks coach Terry Jones. “I am really happy with our overall team work ethic, I am happy with the culture of our team, and with what our potential is heading into the playoffs.”

In the final game, Fruitvale’s Mitch Foyle scored twice and added an assist to sneak into the KIJHL’s top 10 in scoring with 33 goals and 59 points, just edging out the Nitehawks Rookie of the Year, Ross Armour, 14-43-57, as the Hawks top scorer. Foyle was also awarded the Hawks’ Top Forward and MVP for the season.

The Nitehawks had a slow start to the year, going winless in its first five games before building momentum and improving to the point where they went undefeated in December and lost just four matches since.

“When you start off at 0-4-1, everyone is thinking, ‘What’s going on, what’s happening with this group?’” said Jones. “So to finish first with the season start that we had, I’m really pleased with where it is . . . When you think about the structures we have in place with our team, our breakfast club and how we work as a group, I think it all comes into play.”

The Nitehawks open their 2015 playoff run against the Nelson Leafs on Friday, a familiar rival that will be a good test for the Hawks. B.V. won the season series 5-2-1-0, which included a win by default, but their last three games have been decided by just one goal.

“They (Nelson) have a very good hockey team – from one-to-four in our division, there’s not a lot separating all those teams. A team gets hot, your goalie gets hot, a power play gets hot,  there is lots of different things that can jump into the fray as to what happens. I have a lot of confidence, and you have to trust what you’ve prepared, but everything is so tight, that’s the one thing, every team is good and sometimes one thing or another can lead things astray.”

Andrew Miller, voted the team’s Top Defenceman, returned to the line up and scored two goals in his first game back for the Hawks on Friday, a 5-2 victory over the Rebels. The Trail native has been out since suffering an upper body injury in early January.

“It’s great to get him (Miller) back, and into some game time. But that is one of the concerns I have is we do have a lot of injuries still, so just when you think you’re healthy, all of a sudden no you’re not.”

A recent spate of injuries have veteran defenceman Walker Sidoni and forwards Sam Swanson and Michael Pruss out of the line up, and Jace Weegar still recovering.

Swanson is expected to play but Jones is uncertain of the others. Sidoni, co-winner of the Hitman Award along with Jacob Boyczuk, will be a huge loss on the back end. The Trail native is not only physical but has honed his scoring touch netting 21 points in 21 games this season.

Nevertheless, the Nitehawks should have the edge on the Leafs in most facets of the game and have received great performances from APs like Blake Sidoni, Kadrian Klimchuk, and Evan Gorman from the Kootenay Midget Ice. Jones says he is confident in their ability and won’t hesitate to use the young APs.

The Leafs meanwhile lost their final regular-season game to Castlegar on Sunday 4-1, but are healthy and anticipate a tough series against their longtime nemesis.

“There’s a whole lot of history between the teams,” interim head coach Sean Dooley told the Nelson Star. “We respect them and they respect us, but once the puck drops there is no love lost between the two teams. Believe me, it will be a good hard battle.”

B.V. knocked the Leafs out of the playoffs in six games last year, expect the same this year.

Castlegar faces third-place Spokane in the other division match up, which also begins Friday in Castlegar.

Game 1 of the Beaver Valley and Nelson playoff goes on Friday at the Hawks Nest at 7:30 p.m.