An energetic and near-capacity crowd at the Beaver Valley Arena on Saturday cheered on former Nitehawks in the first BC Inter-collegiate Hockey League game played at the rink between the Selkirk College Saints and the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Mariners.
The Saints, unable to use the Castlegar Complex last weekend, shuffled their home games to Fruitvale on Saturday and Nelson on Sunday in what was a showcase of former KIJHL players.
The first game marked a homecoming of sorts for a number of players who played their junior hockey at Beaver Valley Arena for the Nitehawks. Saints forwards Dylan Heppler, Devin Nemes and Kadrian Klimchuk all suited up for the KIJHL team, as did goaltender Tallon Kramer, while Nolan Percival and Tyler Hartman were sidelined with injury.
But perhaps the most high-profile Nitehawks alumnus to make his return was VIU forward Dallas Calvin, who netted 273 points in four seasons, along with goalie Brett Clark who backstopped the Hawks to their only Keystone Cup championship.
The teams split their weekend games, with Kramer stopping 43 shots and earning first star in a 4-3 Saints win at the Hawks Nest, and Calvin scoring the winner for the Mariners in a 3-1 victory at the Nelson and District Rec Complex.
Friday’s game was a fast paced, back-and-forth tilt with a lot of sandpaper thrown in to the delight of the 300-plus B.V. fans.
The Saints Joe Gage one-timed a pass from Klimchuk past Clark to give Selkirk College a 4-3 lead with 6:07 to play in a wild second period. The fifth goal of the middle frame stood as the game winner as both goalies shut the door in the third.
The Saints jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals from Josh Shatford and Sebastian Powsey, but VIU stormed back in the second.
The Saints Kramer robbed Calvin with the glove just two minutes into the second period, but the Mariners kept coming and former Kelowna Chief Brett Witala made a nifty deke on the Saints goal to cut the lead to 2-1 at 12:48. Less than 20 seconds later, the Mariners Michael Olson-Eyre finished a 2-on-1 with a blast into the open side to tie the game at two.
Alex Hanson then gave the Mariners a 3-2 lead at 9:49, lifting in a rebound off a 3-on-1 rush.
The frenetic pace continued, and the Saints Andrew Thompson banged in his own rebound to tie the game at 9:16.
VIU pressed hard in the third outshooting the Saints 17-9, but could not find the equalizer. Kramer thwarted the attack time and again, including a highlight-reel glove save off a point blank shot with just seconds to play.
Both Kramer and Clark faced 46 shots on the night with the Saints going 0-for-2 on the power play and the Mariners 0-for-3.
Sunday was a different game, with the teams playing a tighter checking, defensive match.
The Saints Thompson opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 16:12 of the first period, but VIU answered 52 seconds into the middle frame on a Kobe Oishi goal.
Calvin notched his fifth goal and league-leading 18th point of the season on a Gage Colpron setup to put the Mariners up 2-1 five minutes into the third. VIU would add an empty netter to ice it and put them in second place in the BCIHL standings with a 7-5-0-1 record.
The Saints, at 5-4-0-3, are one point behind the Mariners, who trail league-leading Trinity Western, 9-1-0-1, by four points.
The Saints will enjoy a Christmas break before returning to action in the New Year.