The Beaver Valley Nitehawks did everything right, but get the win against the Nelson Leafs Saturday night at the Hawks Nest.
It all came down to the final game of the season and a packed Beaver Valley Arena was pulsating with anticipation; but in the end, the low-scoring, tight-checking game would be decided in overtime, with the Leafs surviving a 46-shot Nitehawk barrage for the 2-1 victory.
With a 3-1 Hawks win over Spokane Braves on Friday, the Hawks and Leafs sat tied for first place in the Neil Murdoch division of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), leaving the 52nd game of the season to decide the division champion.
B.V. Coach Terry Jones has been in this situation before, and he recognized before the game what could transpire.
“I think it’s important that we finish the weekend on a high note. Regardless of where we finish – we can play a great game and manage to lose . . . Hockey’s hockey, lots of things can happen and you never quite know.”
Austin Seaman netted both Leafs’ goals, including the overtime winner 33 seconds into the extra frame.
With the score tied 1-1 and 32 seconds to play in regulation, the Nitehawks were called for delay of game after unintentionally sending the puck over the boards in their own end. The penalty would give the Leafs a man advantage entering overtime and Seaman capitalized on a 2-on-1 when he took a nice cross-ice pass from Robson Cramer, and fired it into the open side, beating the outstretched Hawks goalie Brett Clark.
“It feels great to get two goals and get the division title,” Seaman told the Nelson Star’s Kevin Mills after the game. “I was speechless, I couldn’t believe I did that. I owe it all to the team, they set me up for that.”
Seaman opened the scoring on a funny power-play goal that somehow snuck in on Clark at 2:55 of the first period.
Beaver Valley outshot the Leafs through two periods, 35-21, and it wasn’t for lack of scoring opportunities that foiled the Hawks, but a combination of bad luck, hit posts, and great goaltending from the Leafs Adam Maida.
“You know, it was a great team win,” said the modest Maida. “There’s been kind of a dark cloud over this rink (the Hawks Nest) for a while but we pulled through and that’s all that matters now.”
The Nitehawks had beaten the Leafs in three of their last four battles, but a stingy defence and hot goalie proved their undoing.
“You know what, I have to give a lot of credit to my defencemen,” said Maida. “They really kept Beaver Valley to the perimeter of the rink and let me see the puck and make the stops I had to.”
With his parents in attendance, Boston native Dan Holland would get the Hawks on the board on a power-play goal with 5:03 to go in the second period.
The Hawks pressed hard on the P.P. and after a flurry in front of Maida, the puck came out to the high slot and Holland corralled it and fired a bullet that somehow found its way through traffic and into the back of the net.
The teams exchanged chances in the third, with both goalies making big saves to preserve the tie before Seaman would win it in the extra frame.
Clark also played well in net for the Hawks, stopping 32 Nelson shots.
As for the Leafs coach Frank Maida, he was pleased with his team’s performance, particularly in shutting down a vaunted Hawks’ attack.
“We focused on team defence this week and, they put a lot of pressure on us. We battled and gave them a lot of shots from the outside and took away all their second opportunities,” he said.
Nelson and Beaver Valley have a long history and the victory was sweet for the Leafs, not just because of the division title, but because it took place in the Nitehawks rink.
“It’s always a tough building coming here and we have a great rivalry with Beaver Valley, they are a great hockey team,” said Maida.
B.V. will now face Castlegar who secured third spot in the division after beating Grand Forks on Friday 5-3. The win lifted them a point ahead of Spokane, who will now face the Leafs on Tuesday in Nelson.