One of the most intense rivalries in the KIJHL hits the ice tonight, as the Beaver Valley Nitehawks get set to host the Nelson Leafs at the Beaver Valley Arena.
The Nitehawks would like nothing more to sweep the Leafs and win out the remaining six games in the regular season and likely nab another Neil Murdoch division title, but they aren’t depending on it.
The first-place Leafs hold a five-point lead on the Hawks, yet a Beaver Valley sweep of the two-game series this weekend would cut that to a single point with four games remaining. Follow that with a sweep of the Rebels and Spokane, and the Hawks still may finish on top.
“It’s a 52-game season and if we were to be successful and win that’s great, but if we don’t, we don’t. It’s not the end of the world, we just got to win one game on the road in the playoffs,” said Nitehawks’ coach and GM Terry Jones.
Inter-division games are always eventful, but the ones against Nelson and Castlegar even more so. Win or lose, they are usually always fiercely competitive, especially ones with the import of the upcoming matches.
“We want to be playing our best. If we can get the guys prepared for what we have to do in four weeks time, then that’s what we’re looking for,” said Jones.
The biggest reason for finishing in first is to enjoy home-ice advantage in the playoffs. It may have proven the difference in the Hawks’ Game-7 playoff win over Castlegar last season, but each team had stolen a game in the other’s barn leading up to the dramatic final-match.
“It is a big factor,” said assistant coach Kevin Limbert. “It’s nice to have the home ice but at the end of the day all we’re concerned with is controlling how we play these next games, and putting our best foot forward, and our best effort on the ice. The standings will sort themselves out. I don’t think we’re looking at them as must win (games). . . if we play to our full potential these next six games, regardless of the outcome, that’s all we can ask for.”
Beaver Valley hasn’t played the Leafs since Dec. 31 when the Hawks won 7-5 in Nelson. Prior to that, the Leafs reeled off three straight wins against B.V., including a 12-0 wake-up call in the Hawks’ Nest back on Nov. 2. The Leafs lead the season series 4-2, and are 7-3 in their last 10, while the Hawks are 7-2-1, and the Rebels 8-1-1.
However, with the return of Dan Holland, and Ryan Edwards, this week’s signing of former Hawk Keanan Patershuk, and the addition of goaltender Jarrod Schamerhorn, a different Nitehawks team has emerged.
Combine that with a surging Dallas Calvin, and great play from rookies Kurt Black, Connor Brown-Maloski, Taylor Stafford, Ryley Brandt, and Michael Bell, the Hawks could be poised to repeat.
Beaver Valley’s vaunted offence has played a large part in the team’s turn around as it leads the league in goals-for, yet it could be the veteran defence that carries them through the playoffs.
The Nitehawks own one of the most versatile and seasoned defensive corps in the KIJHL. Anchored by veterans Arie Postmus, 21, Archie McKinnon, 19, Nick Perez, 20, Derek Lashuk, 20, Fraser Stang, 19, and Walker Sidoni, 18, the six players are a physical force that punishes offensive attackers and executes a stifling zone defence, while quarterbacking an endless series of dynamic offensive opportunities.
Perez is tied with Kamloops’ Daniel Buchanan with the most points in the league by a defenseman, while Postmus, Lashuk, and McKinnon are having their most productive campaigns in the K this season, while Sidoni and Stang are reliable, tough-as-nails, stay-at-home type defencemen.
“It’s always good to get rookies on the team, but for veteran D-men like ourselves, it’s nice to have a full D-corps that’s had experience in the league before, and I’m sure it helps with developing kids as well,” said assistant captain Postmus. “Nelson’s got a good offence, but six veteran D-men really helps with the experience, but we still have to get the puck to our forwards and let them score the goals.”
The Hawks will look to neutralize Leafs’ top scorer, veteran Colton Schell, along with recent acquistion, former Grand Forks Border Bruins’ leading scorer Connor Gross. The Leafs have also bolstered its back end by picking up experienced 20-year-old netminder Marcus Beesley from the Kamloops Storm last month.
It’s not a given, but Postmus, a Fruitvale native and four-year vet, says the Hawk crew is full of confidence, and ready for another playoff run, perhaps even a KIJHL title.
“We got a lot of hard working guys, a lot of guys lately that are putting the puck in the net, the new guys are doing good, key guys came back, and I really think we have a good chance to do it again,” said Postmus. “It would be great to go out with another win.”
Team captain McKinnon agrees, but realizes the task is not an easy one.
“It’s going to be to whoever is willing to work the hardest and whoever wants it the most.”
While Jones is happy with the team’s progress, he realizes the playoffs are a different season, but is looking forward to the challenge of the upcoming games.
“I think we’re excited about where we are in the season. The dog days are over, and now we’re in the stretch run to get to the playoffs. The games in Nelson and Castlegar are at a whole other level of intensity and we haven’t played them in a while so that’s what we miss. It’s nice to bring that element back in, and I know the guys will be jacked.”
The puck drops at the Beaver Valley Arena at 7:30 p.m. tonight and in Nelson Saturday at 7 p.m.