Teams collide in Neil Murdoch Division
semifinal for second consecutive year
There’s no denying that anytime the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs begin, it’s going to feature an intense rivalry in the Murdoch Division.
And when the Beaver Valley Nitehawks begin their best-of-seven Murdoch semifinal tonight in Fruitvale against the Nelson Leafs, the bell will ring in another round between two well-seasoned foes.
The two clubs will meet for the second consecutive year and eighth time in 11 years since the Leafs returned to the KIJHL after a brief dalliance with the now-defunct Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League.
Over that spell the Nitehawks hold a 5-3 lead in series although Nelson won the last meeting, in 2010, outlasting Beaver Valley 3-2 in Game 7 of the division semifinal.
The Leafs went on to the KIJHL final before losing out to the Revelstoke Grizzlies.
Over the last few years Nelson has been the dominant team in the Murdoch Division but the pendulum has shifted this year.
Castlegar took the regular-season division crown and the second-place Nitehawks will hold home ice advantage on the third-place Leafs when the puck drops on Game 1 tonight.
Home ice hasn’t been a determining factor in the regular season series, which saw Beaver Valley win seven of eight meetings.
The Hawks lost once in four visits to Nelson and won all four meetings at the Beaver Valley Arena. However, the last three games, all won by the Nitehawks, have been decided by a single goal.
And while many of those goals have been coming from a variety of sources, there have been some main markers on both sides.
Nelson’s Cody Abbey has scored almost half of his season’s goal total – 16 – against the Hawks. The 20-year-old Kaslo native has six goals against Beaver Valley, the most of any player in the eight-game season series.
Beaver Valley’s leading scorer Ryon Sookro has enjoyed success against the city where he honed his minor hockey skills.
Sookro leads all player with 13 points in the eight meetings, including five goals.
Chris Derochie holds the hottest hand currently with seven points in the last three games against Nelson.
“Against Beaver Valley you have to play aggressive but stay disciplined,” said Leafs head coach Chris Shaw.
As usual come playoff time, the series will be decided between the pipes.
Nelson is pinning its hopes on 18-year-old Marcus Beesley, who has taken over the number-one role after Darren Hogg went down with an injury in a Jan. 7 contest. Since then Beesley has played in 14 straight games winning six.
Nick Broessler, a 20-year-old from Prince George, saw about a period of action in the Leafs final game of the season on Saturday against Creston.
“Beez will be our number-one guy,” said Shaw. “We have a lot of faith in him.”
Meanwhile, the Nitehawks will hand the ball to Mike Vlanich who is working his way back into shape after missing most of January due to injury.
He went 4-1 against the Leafs in the regular season including a 3-0 shutout in October.
The team has a very capable second option in Zach Perehudoff who stepped up in Vlanich’s absence in January winning six of nine starts including a pair of victories over Nelson.