The Beaver Valley Nitehawks are sitting on the top perch of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
Last night in Kelowna, the Hawks, who were the top team in the regular season, completed a four-game sweep of the Kelowna Chiefs with a 4-2 victory to add the playoff championship to a stellar season.
The win marks the sixth time in franchise history that the Nitehawks will hang a league championship banner in the Beaver Valley Arena. The Hawks also claimed the KIJHL crown in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004.
The 2012 banner began to unfurl early in the second period as Beaver Valley scored three times in a span of just over six minutes to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.
“That changed the tide in the game,” agreed Hawks assistant coach Jeremy Cominotto.
“I think getting that penalty kill was huge for us then Josh (Peters) scores.”
Craig Martin scored twice – on the power play and at even strength – while Peters, a blueliner, added a huge shorthanded tally during the second-period surge that gave their team a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The teams played through a cautious and scoreless first period with Kelowna accounting for eight of the 13 shots on goal, the lowest combined total of any period so far in the KIJHL final.
Zach Perehudoff got the start between the pipes for the Hawks while Tyler O’Donnell saw his first action for Kelowna since being pulled after allowing three goals in the first period of Beaver Valley’s 7-1 shellacking in Game 2.
But the defensive battle quickly turned into a shootout early in the second period.
Kelowna managed to draw first blood two minutes and two seconds into the middle frame when defenceman Braeden Hikichi notched his sixth goal of the post season.
But as quickly as the crowd was on its feet, the Nitehawks stole the momentum with two goals in a span of 46 seconds.
First, Peters combined with Martin and Ryan Edwards for a shorthanded marker to knot the game at 1-1. Then Martin capped off a power play to put the Hawks in front 2-1 with the period only five minutes old.
Beaver Valley struck again at the midway mark of the frame when Martin potted his 17th goal of the playoffs to make it 3-1.
The marker gave Martin a share of the playoff goal-scoring lead and sole possession of the playoff points race with 32.
As expected, Kelowna came out with nothing to lose in the final frame and pulled to within one on Matt Hill’s goal with 12 minutes to play in regulation time.
The Hawks made it tough on themselves by killing off a couple of penalties to preserve the precarious lead.
“We sat back a bit, which wasn’t our game plan,” admitted Cominotto. “But the guys did what they had to do.”
The title was finally sealed when Dallas Calvin had a shot at the empty net with 23 seconds to play but was hauled down by a Chiefs’ player, which resulted in the referee awarding the goal to Beaver Valley.
Perehudoff made 27 saves for his ninth win in 11 playoff appearances.
There would be no last-minute drama like in Game 3 on Saturday in Kelowna, which may loom as the turning point of the entire series.
Nick Perez’s game-tying goal with 30 seconds to play and Calvin’s hat trick marker early in the first overtime propelled the Hawks to a 5-4 victory.
“Nick scoring with less than 30 seconds left and us winning shortly into overtime really took the wind out of their sails,” agreed Cominotto.
Calvin and Max Flanagan combined for eight points on the night as the Hawks inched closer to the title. However, the Chiefs put up a spirited fight.
Kelowna held a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes, which included a 21-shot second period onslaught on Beaver Valley netminder Mike Vlanich.
But Tyler Collins moved the Hawks to within one goal five minutes into the third period.
Beaver Valley poured it on in third searching for the equalizer as they outshot the Chiefs 16-7 in the final 20 minutes.
The Hawks were finally rewarded with 30 seconds left in regulation time when Perez notched the game-tying goal.
It didn’t take long in the extra session as Calvin and Flanagan combined for the game winner three minutes and 31 seconds into the extra frame.
The Nitehawks, who went 16-5 en route to the KIJHL crown, will get a well-deserved break before returning to action in the opening game of the Cyclone Taylor Cup on April 12 in Abbotsford against the Pacific International Junior Hockey League champion Delta Ice Hawks.