The eight-year drought is over, and there’s no telling how much farther the Nelson Leafs will go now.
The Leafs are on their way to the Kootenay Conference final for the first time since 2010 after eliminating the Castlegar Rebels in five games on Monday.
Mitchell Lavoie, who was just 11 years old the last time the Leafs reached the third round, scored the game-winning goal as Nelson won 5-2 in front of a raucous crowd of 836 fans at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
Lavoie hasn’t been a regular on the ice during the playoffs, but he made his ice time count in Game 5. Early in the third he picked off a pass deep in the Rebels’ zone, skated uncontested into the slot and scored to give the Leafs a lead they wouldn’t give up.
“I just picked it up and looked around and before I knew it I was like, ‘Holy, there’s no one here. I pretty much have a breakaway,’” a cheery Lavoie said after the game.
Ethan Beattie, Jack Karran, Michael Bladon and Jaiden LaPorte also scored for the Leafs, while Josh Williams finished with 20 saves.
Evan Della Paolera and Chris Breese had Castlegar’s lone goals, and Tanner Douglas allowed five goals on 36 shots.
“When you look at the journey we embarked on this year, now we’re in playoffs, it’s the first team to win four series and we’re only halfway there,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. “But it feels great being on this side of the equation.”
The last time Nelson advanced this far was during the 2009-10 season, when it ended up losing to Revelstoke in the league championship.
This year, the Leafs moved on after winning the first two games in overtime against Castlegar, dumping the Rebels 8-4 in Game 3 and overcoming a 6-2 loss in Game 4.
Nelson will next face the Kimberley Dynamiters, who also advanced Monday against the Columbia Valley Rockies. Kimberley, which will host Game 1 on Friday, finished the regular season with the best record in the KIJHL and have lost just once so far during the playoffs.
That doesn’t matter to Lavoie. He’s not ready for this ride to end.
“To go so far and keep going for now, it’s going to be just amazing for the community and the team,” said Lavoie.