The Beaver Valley Nitehawks iced a solid mix of young and up-and-coming talent, but fell in their opening exhibition match 5-4 to the Spokane Braves on Monday at the Beaver Valley Arena.
“I think to start there were a lot of nerves,” said Nitehawks Assistant GM Jamie Cominotto. “But once we got the first period out of the way, we were able to settle them down between periods, and they obviously calmed down because they came out with two great periods, and we almost took it back.”
With just three veterans (Kyle Hope, Sam Swanson, and Lyle Frank) in the lineup, the fledgling squad of largely 15- to 17-year-old Nitehawks had a shaky first period, but battled back from a 4-1 deficit to make it close and almost tie it in the waning moments.
The Braves’ Jason Hambelton would net his second of the game and what proved to be the winner with 1:05 to play in the second period, beating Braden Cherrington, who played the second half of the game, on a scramble in front of the net to make it 5-3 Braves.
Spokane, which iced up to six veterans, opened the scoring when Hambelton wired a screen shot passed Hawks starter Devin Daviduk 90 seconds into the first period.
Swanson would reply, taking a pass from Hope and firing it glove side on goalie Blake Norman to tie it at 16:17.
The Braves made it 2-1 at 13:39 when Josh Fisher converted a bad bounce off the backboard and slapped it by a surprised Daviduk. Kurt Redding would tip a centering pass out of mid-air to put the Braves up 3-1 with just over five minutes to play in the period. Then with 40 seconds remaining, Fisher would net his second of the period backhanding a loose puck by a screened Hawks’ netminder for a 4-1 lead.
B.V. regrouped and came out flying in the second.
Six minutes in, Fruitvale native Ryan Neil sent Dylan Heppler streaking down the left side, and the Taber, Alta. native fired a laser top corner on Norman to draw the Hawks within two. Minutes later, Colton Dawson would make it a one-goal game, scoring on a point shot to make it 4-3.
After Hambelton’s goal, Frank’s blue-line blast three minutes into the third period would bring the Hawks to within one, and Cherrington would close the door, making a series of brilliant saves to keep the Hawks in it. The Montrose native stoned Braves captain Connor McIntosh on a breakaway, then sprawled to rob a blast from a trailing Fisher on the rebound, before finally stopping a point-blank shot from the hash marks.
The Nitehawks pressured but could not find the equalizer despite pulling their goalie for an extra attacker in the final minute.
B.V. is still carrying close to 40 players to mix into the lineup as they continue with a grueling seven-games-in-seven-days exhibition series. But, the effort of the young players has impressed the coaching staff, and, in many cases, exceeded expectations.
“It’s a look to the future but they also earned it,” said Cominotto. “Those guys put in three days at camp in Trail that wasn’t easy, they obviously earned a game or two, and whatever else might come. But guys like (15-year-olds) Cody Stewart and Connor Seib, they really played well and they earned their ice time tonight.”
The Hawks played the Creston Valley Thunder Cats on Monday night but the score was unavailable.
B.V. plays in Castlegar and Nelson on Wednesday and Thursday before returning to the Hawks Nest Friday for games against the Rebels, Leafs, and Braves on the weekend and a final exhibition match on Tuesday versus the Thunder Cats.
“Going through the week we’ll be letting guys go, but we have seven games in seven nights so we want to carry enough for two teams, to have some rest for the veterans and the guys that are a little banged up,” added Cominotto.