The Beaver Valley Nitehawks had their second last look at some young players as they succumbed to the Nelson Leafs 3-0 in KIJHL exhibition play at the Beaver Valley Arena on Sunday.
In an effort to identify the two 16-year-old players the Nitehawks will sign for the upcoming season, the team dressed a raft of rookies for its final home tilt against the Leafs. With just three veterans in the lineup, the rookie laden squad fared well against a Nelson team that will likely be their stiffest competition once the season gets underway on Friday.
“We put a lot of young guys in that made a push for spots on the team,” said assistant coach Jeremy Cominotto. “We thought it would be a good idea to give them a chance and rest our veterans a little bit and at the same time Nelson was putting in a good line up so we thought we’d see what these guys can do.”
Nelson scored a goal in each period to pace the Leafs to the 3-0 victory, getting goals from Bryce Nielson, Robson Cramer, and Colton St. John. The Nitehawks had their chances hitting three posts, and generating numerous opportunities including a breakaway by Ryan Edwards whose quick snapshot beat goalie Adam Maida and appeared to go in and out, but was called off by the referee.
A number of local players are vying for one of the two 16-year-old spots on the team, including Sam Swanson, Mitch Titus, Kyle Hope, Ryan Neil, Jarod Kinakin, and Jeremy Lucchini.
“We are pretty impressed with the young core that we have, if not this year then for years to come,” said Cominotto. “Right now they’ve all played well, and done things that can put them in the line up and to play every day, but at this time we’re still unsure of any glaring frontrunner.”
The Nitehawks exhibition season has seen both good and bad results beginning with a 6-1 victory over the Creston ThunderCats last Sunday, followed by an 8-2 loss at the hands of Nelson Tuesday. However, after a 6-4 setback to Creston the next night, the Hawks bounced back with a pair of wins over Castlegar Friday, 4-2, and Saturday, 5-1.
While the team has 10 returning veterans, it remains to be seen whether they can replace key offensive players like Dallas Calvin, Dan Holland, Connor Brown-Maloski and Kurt Black.
“Those guys are all super players and it is going to be tough. We have the skill but it’s putting the total game together on the defensive end as well.”
The Nitehawks also started camp with no set goaltending tandem, but Cominotto was confident that two of the four goalies remaining would provide ample support between the pipes, and there is a possibility that last year’s late goaltending addition, Jared Schamerhorn, may be back if he doesn’t stay with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL.
“There’s a trickle down effect that we seem to run into every year, and we’re fortunate enough to have players come in and fill roles that we need, and we’re hoping that happens again, because we don’t feel like we are too far away from icing a very, very solid squad.”
The Nitehawks will be in another tough Neil Murdoch Division race with Nelson and Castlegar, and with the Cyclone Taylor being hosted by Nelson this year, the stakes become even higher for all the teams.
“With the Cyclone Taylor being so close, we want to be there,” added Cominotto. “It’s going to be tough . . . we definitely have our work cut out for us but we want to be there and we’re going to make the calls that put us in a position to win the Cyclone Taylor.”
The Nitehawks close out their preseason matchups against the Grand Forks Border Bruins in Grand Forks on Tuesday and will have to pare down the roster to 23 skaters before game time Friday when they play in Spokane for their first regular season game.