The Nelson Leafs locked down second place overall with a 6-3 victory over the Beaver Valley Nitehawks at the B.V. Arena on Saturday.
Prior to the start of their final match of the regular season, the Nitehawks, Leafs and Grand Forks Border Bruins were all tied atop the Neil Murdoch Division standings with 51 points.
After beating Castlegar 5-1 on Friday, B.V. had a chance to take top spot if they beat the Nelson Leafs, but a number of obscure variables had to happen. In the end, the bounces just didn’t go the Niteahawks way.
Grand Forks did what they had to do and defeated the Castlegar Rebels 5-2, and claimed their first Murdoch Division title in 30 or so years. The 25-16-1-2 Bruins finished with the same number of points, 53, as Nelson (24-15-4-1), but won the tie breaker by virtue of having the most wins.
Nelson, however, has the momentum winning four straight heading into the first round of the KIJHL playoffs, which includes two victories over Grand Forks and one vs B.V. to tie their season series at 4-4.
In Saturday’s match, the Leafs leading scorer Johnny Carmichael scored the game winner 1:48 into the third period, when his centering pass was blocked by the B.V. defenceman, and bounced right back to Carmichael who fired it into the open side for a 4-2 lead.
Nelson opened the scoring at the 3:45 mark of the first period when Leighton Partington banged in a rebound.
The Nitehawks tied it on a power play goal 1:49 into the second period, with Ollie Clement firing in a loose puck off an Austin McLean shot.
Beaver Valley took a 2-1 lead when Ethan Smyth tipped a Cooper Ross shot over the shoulder of Nelson goalie Frederick Larochelle. However, the Leafs stormed back with Kieran Christianson tying it.
Tyson Lautard scored a buzzer-beater to make it 3-2 Nelson with less than a second left on the clock. Lautard carried the puck across the blueline and fired a shot from the high slot that handcuffed B.V. goalie Nathan Presley.
Nelson carried the momentum into the third with Carmichael’s game winner. Beaver Valley made it a one-goal game on the power play, when Spencer Dixon-Reusz’s point shot went through traffic and into the back of the net at 11:26.
Nelson notched the insurance marker when a shot from Partington caromed off the glass behind the net, and bounced right out front to Christianson who fired it past Presley for a 5-3 lead.
Lucas Byrne scored into an empty net with 21 seconds to play for the 6-3 final.
The Nitehawks outshot the Leafs 46-45 and went 2-for-2 on the power play, and 1-for-2 on the penalty kill.
On Friday, the Nitehawks spread out the scoring to five players including Gavin Tritt, Cooper Ross, Joel Smyth, Austin McLean and Timothy Jozsa for a 5-1 victory over the Castlegar Rebels.
The Hawks outshot the Rebels 40-29 and were 1-for-6 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the PK.
According to the recently posted playoff schedule, the Nitehawks will now face the Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. After the Spokane Braves pulled out of the season, the league allowed the top seed in the Neil Murdoch Division the choice of either playing the cross-over fourth-place team, Creston Valley Thundercats, or the third place team, Beaver Valley. Grand Forks needed to make their decision by noon Sunday, Feb. 11, and will play Creston.
“Our preference would be to have the Braves battling for a playoff spot with their Neil Murdoch Division rivals,” said KIJHL Commissioner Jeff Dubois. “But this format ensures a fair opportunity for all nine Kootenay Conference teams to compete for the postseason while also rewarding the Neil Murdoch Division winner in a creative, outside-the-box manner.”
The first two games of the BV-Nelson series goes on Friday, Feb. 17 and Saturday, Feb. 18 in Nelson, with the puck drop at 7 p.m. Games 4 and 5 go in Fruitvale at the Beaver Valley Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 21 and Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m.
Read: Nitehawks take down Border Bruins, win season series