Leafs can’t solve Hawks
For the second week in a row, the Nelson Junior Leafs couldn’t quite stick it to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
The Leafs dropped a 3-2 decision to their Murdoch division rivals Saturday, then added a 6-5 loss in the Nitehawks’ arena Sunday.
In both contests the Nitehawks were first on the board, posting goals halfway through the first period.
Though the Leafs threw almost five times as many shots at the Beaver Valley net Saturday, their breakthrough didn’t come until the final 90 seconds of the period, when Cody Abbey scored his first of the night.
While the Leafs had some good chances coming into the second, it was the Nitehawks who came back first, capitalizing on a power play with six minutes to go.
This time the Leafs’ answer came more quickly, with another smooth shot from Abbey.
“I feel like I’m playing better after Christmas,” Abbey told the Star following the game.
The Kaslo native has been creeping up the Leafs’ leader board as of late, putting up seven goals in his last four outings, and head coach Chris Shaw said he’s expecting Abbey to be an asset when the Leafs go up against the Nitehawks in the first round of the playoffs.
“He’s the kind of guy that is a playoff hockey player,” Shaw added. “He’s got a big body, keeps it simple and he intimidates other players on the ice just by being out there.”
Unfortunately, Abbey’s second marker was the last the Leafs would see Saturday. As the third period began it was Beaver Valley who put the pressure on.
“They came out in that third period and they took it to us, and maybe we were a little bit too loose,” Abbey said. “We kinda got into it, but we’ve got to make sure that our starts at the beginning of periods are better, because they came at us hard.”
Eight minutes in, Leafs defenceman Riley Henderson went into the penalty box for cross-checking, and the Nitehawks pounced on the opportunity.
“We got that one penalty there and it took the wind out of our sails, but we should have been able to kill it off and kept our momentum running,” said team captain Taylor O’Neil. “Obviously it didn’t turn out that way.”
The Leafs tried to fight back, pulling goaltender Marcus Beesley in the game’s final minutes, but they weren’t able to find the net before the clock ran out.
Sunday saw the Leafs put up a similar fight, matching the Nitehawks shot for shot, only to lose with 90 seconds to play.
Leafs defender Raymond Reimer used a powerplay to his advantage to put Nelson on the board at the end of the first period, evening the score at 1-1.
When the Nitehawks pulled ahead early in the second, the Leafs powered back with markers from Abbey and Joel Stewart.
But it was Beaver Valley that got final say in the last minute of the period, before pulling ahead with two goals at the beginning of the third.
““They scored a couple of freaky goals,” said Shaw. “One off of our skate, and an alley-oop from the blueline that just looked like a basketball shot and found its way into the back of the net.”
With less than three minutes remaining, the Leafs came back in force. Abbey posted his fourth goal of the home and home, and 30 seconds later Patrick Martens pulled the team even.
But once again, Beaver Valley edged ahead, putting up the game-winning goal with only a minute to spare.
The Nitehawks have squeezed past the Leafs three times in the last two weeks, but Shaw says three close losses haven’t put a dent in the team’s confidence.
“We’ve controlled the play for all three games,” he says. “We’ve just kind of been on the other end of the stick there in the loss department. But the way we’ve competed against the team and been given the opportunities to win, we’re right there.”
The Leafs are back in action Friday night as they begin a two-game series with the Castlegar Rebels.