The KIJHL’s Kootenay Conference grew more competitive following the Dec. 1 roster deadline, where teams were required to cut their roster from 30 to 25 carded players.
The Beaver Valley Nitehawks made their moves late last month when they made room for 20-year-old forward Mitch Foyle of Fruitvale and sent Devin Nemes, also 20, to the Fernie Ghostriders, while adding six-foot-one, 205-pound Dylan Kent to an already deep blue line.
The Conference leading Creston Valley Thunder Cats made the biggest move on Saturday coaxing the KIJHL’s top scorer Paxton Malone from the Spokane Braves for future considerations. Malone, 19, leads the league with 17 goals and 30 assists in 30 games and will add even more offensive upside to the KIJHL’s highest scoring team, averaging almost five goals (4.9) per game.
The Creston Valley Thunder Cats also acquired the playing rights of 18-year-old defenceman Nick Darling from the Revelstoke Grizzlies in return for future considerations. Creston is also host to this year’s Cyclone Taylor Cup.
However, the Nelson Leafs seem to have made even more of an impact, after defeating the Thunder Cats on Saturday 4-2. The Leafs added former Nitehawk goalie Billy Gorn to their lineup earlier this week. Gorn joined the Hawks for a brief spell last season before moving to the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. But the 20-year-old puck stopper became available after being released by the Fort Frances Lakers of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League in Ontario.
“We had a couple lines on goalies, a young guy and an older guy,” Leafs GM Sean Dooley told the Nelson Star. “I think the theory was go with the older guy because of experience, and he has Junior A experience, so he’s obviously a competitor in that sense.”
Gorn started both Leafs games on the weekend, picking up consecutive 4-2 wins against Creston and Grand Forks.
In addition, the Leafs shored up its back end with the signing of six-foot-one defenceman Kyle Rosolowski from the Osoyoos Coyotes for the playing rights to former Leaf Michael Crawford.
Nelson also acquired talent up front with the addition of forwards Alex Meeker from 100 Mile House and Coeur d’Alene native Cooper Schroder who was released from the Northern Ontario junior league.
To make room on the roster, Nelson traded goalie Jason Sandhu to Kamloops, Noah Looman to the Chase Heat, utility player Charlie Wilkie to Princeton, and Kolten Nelson to Sicamous, all for future considerations.
However, a big loss for Nelson is that ot Eamonn Miller who was called up by the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Blizzard of Manitoba’s Junior Hockey League. Miller tallied four goals and 12 points for the Leafs this year and was a big presence for the Leafs in the locker room and on the ice.
“I don’t think we hit the panic button,” said Dooley. “We knew we needed the guys we brought into the lineup. They’re going to make us better no matter what. Our goal is we want to win. That’s it.”
The Leafs, literally, will be a different team the next time they face off against the Nitehawks on Dec. 31.
The Hawks meanwhile will have a heavy dose of the Castlegar Rebels and Grand Forks Border Bruins this month, playing each team three times, starting on Friday with the Bruins in Grand Forks. The Nitehawks next home game goes on Saturday when they host a more lethal Thunder Cats team at 7:30 p.m. at the B.V. Arena.