The Beaver Valley Nitehawks soared to its fifth win in a row with three victories over their Neil Murdoch division rivals on the weekend.
The Hawks skated to a 4-2 victory Friday over the Nelson Leafs and an impressive 7-2 win over the Castlegar Rebels, before laying a 6-2 drubbing on the Spokane Braves Sunday afternoon.
“These games were huge, especially having games in hand on Castlegar and going in there and winning,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Bill Birks. “That was probably the best game we played all year, now we’re four up and still have one game in hand, so it was a big weekend for us.”
On Sunday against the Braves, Nitehawks forward Nolan Percival scored the winning goal with four minutes 30 seconds left in the second period, firing in the rebound off a Jake Yuris point shot to make it 3-2 heading to the third.
The victories give the Hawks a four-point cushion on Castlegar for top spot in the Neil Murdoch division and third place overall in the KIJHL, as they head into the last weekend of hockey before the Christmas break.
Jaxon Joseph opened the scoring finishing a pretty 2-on-1 with Braden Fuller with a snipe to the top corner at 5:49 of the first period for his 13th goal of the season. But Spokane tied it on the power play when Austin Breen went top shelf on Hawk goalie Drake Poirier just over a minute later.
Smoke Eater rookie Blake Sidoni got it back when he made a power move to the front of the net and slid the puck between Norman’s pads to make it 2-1 with 2:56 to play in the opening frame, as the Hawks outshot the Braves 16-9.
The Braves picked up the pace in the second, going back-and-forth with the Hawks until a Mason Jones blast snuck by Poirier with 4:59 to play in the middle stanza.
Percival sent the game into the third with the Hawks leading 3-2, and B.V. struck three more times. Tyler Ghiradosi netted a power play goal shovelling in a rebound off a Yuris point shot to make it 4-2 at 16:10, then Sam Swanson made a pretty play in the slot, dropping it back to McKoy Hauk who sent a low screen shot by Norman to make it 5-2.
Dylan Heppler then finished off the scoring, taking a pass from Joseph, stepping around the defenceman and wiring a laser top corner to complete the scoring with 5:36 to play.
Yuris had a three assist game for the Nitehawks, who outshot the Braves 41-26, and went 1-for-3 on the power play, while the Braves went 1-for-7. Joseph was the Hawks player of the game while Norman got the nod for Spokane.
On Saturday, Swanson scored twice and added an assist to lead the Hawks to a 7-2 victory over the Rebels.
“Did you see him (Swanson) tonight, he’s two leagues above everybody,” said Birks. “Good speed and vision, you know I don’t think he has had five bad shifts all year. He gives you everything he’s got, every drill in practice, it’s nice to have him back.”
The Nitehawks jumped out to a 4-0 first period lead on two goals from Swanson and singles from Brett Roberts and Karsten Jang. The Rebels Mike Bhatoa would score two in the final minutes of the first, but goals from Roberts, Devin Nemes, and Joseph rounded out the scoring for the Hawks in the final two periods.
Swanson has been a force on the ice since his return from injury four games ago. Over that time the Fruitvale native has scored four goals and added three assists for 18 points on the season to equal his total output from last year.
“It feels great to be back,” said Swanson, Saturday’s player of the game. “The boys are on a roll which is good and we’re coming together right now, which is good timing. I don’t think it’s huge (difference), but there’s an extra jump in my step, excited to be back.”
Tallon Kramer stopped 32 shots for the Hawks, while Logan Sawka and Joseph McLeod combined for 41 for the Rebels. The Nitehawks-Rebels rivalry has never been more heated as the Hawks won their fourth straight game over the Rebels this season, in a series of games combining skill and toughness with almost 70 minutes in penalties between the two teams.
“That rivalry goes back for years and the playoffs, it’s been one-two … It’s been a long time since the Nitehawks have lost to those guys, so you definitely get up for those games,” said Birks.
On Friday, Drake Poirier was stellar in net stopping 42 of 44 shots to backstop the Hawks to a 4-2 victory over the Nelson Leafs. Ryan Terpsma and former Leaf Nolan Percival gave B.V. a 2-0 lead after two periods but Malcolm Fenelon made it 2-1 midway through the final frame before Braden Fuller scored on the power play for what would prove to be the winner with 6:09 left in the third. With just over one minute remaining, Swanson added an empty netter to make it 4-1 and the Leafs scored a consolation marker with one second left to end it.
“It’s been a long time coming for us, getting these wins in a row here,” said Swanson. “We’re finally coming together, we’re working hard in practice, and it’s nice to be on a roll right now.”
The Leafs outshot B.V. 43-32 on the night with Poirier getting the game star honour for the Hawks.