After eliminating the Nelson Leafs on Thursday, 4-3, in double overtime, the Beaver Valley Nitehawks played their first game of the best-of-seven Neil Murdoch division final against the Castlegar Rebels on Monday and will face off for Game 2 tonight at 7 p.m. at the Hawks Nest. (Unfortunately, due to the lateness of the game, the Monday night score was unavailable at press time.)
The Rebels beat the Braves, 4-2, in Game 6 of their divisional playoff Friday to win the semifinal series four games to two to and move onto the division final against the Hawks.
“It’s always fun,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Kevin Limbert. “A great rivalry, and it’s going to be high paced, and it’s going to be good quality hockey so I’m looking forward to it.”
The Nitehawks won the regular season series over the second-seed Rebels 5-2, however, two of those games were decided in overtime and, given the historic and intense rivalry, the series won’t be easy for either team.
“They have some skilled guys, and obviously a couple good goaltenders for sure, but we’re mostly concerned with how we play, and making sure we bring our best game to the table,” said Limbert. “They are going to work hard, and play a physical game so we have to make sure we match that intensity, and are playing physical as well.”
In Thursday’s match, the Nitehawks overcame a 2-0 deficit in the third period to comeback and defeat the Nelson Leafs 4-3 in double overtime to win the Neil Murdoch division semi-final series, four-games-to-one.
“It was a hard-fought series,” said Limbert. “I don’t think the final, 4-game-to-1, was indicative of the play, every game was close, two went to overtime, and they battled hard and we battled hard, and it was a great series.”
Nitehawks forward Spencer McLean was the overtime hero in Game 5, taking a pass from Mitch Foyle and wiring a shot top corner on Leaf AP goalie Jason Mailhiot at 8:52 for the double overtime winner.
“Foyler just threw a pass at me, and the first thing I thought was just throw it on net, took a slap shot and (Nelson d-man) St. Pierre got his stick on it, and it just went in,” said McLean after the game.
The OT goal ended a physical series in which the Leafs, despite a rash of injuries, pushed the Nitehawks to the limit in almost every game, adding another chapter to the bitter rivalry. It was McLean’s second goal of the game, after scoring what looked to be the game winner midway through the third to put the Hawks up 3-2, until Nelson’s Robson Cramer tied it with just 25 seconds remaining in regulation.
“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.”
After a slow start, the Hawks got back on track in the second period, outshooting the Leafs 13-8, but couldn’t beat Mailhiot. However, a 5-on-3 penalty kill, highlighted by an incredible save by Schamerhorn, was the TSN turning point. The Leafs had a glorious opportunity to go up 3-0 when Miller sent a cross-ice pass to Leafs’ Dylan Williamson who blasted it at the open cage, but Schamerhorn dove across and robbed the Leafs forward with a glove save. The stop would keep the period scoreless, and set up the Hawks comeback in the third.
“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, and six minutes later, Tyler Hartman finished a pretty 2-on-1 with Brayden Horcoff 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, Cramer blasted a point shot through a screen with 25 seconds to play to tie it and force overtime.
As for McLean, the Fruitvale native was already looking ahead to the next round after the Nelson game.
“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.”