UPDATE: Opportunity fizzles for Nelson Leafs on Sunday afternoon
It was opportunity lost for the Nelson Junior Leafs Sunday as an afternoon of bad bounces enabled the Revelstoke Grizzlies to skate away with a 4-0 victory at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
With time running out on the regular season, the Leafs are engaged in a fierce battle with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks and Castlegar Rebels for top spot in the Neil Murdoch Division. A mere five points separates all three of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s top clubs.
Heading into Sunday, the Leafs had disposed of Spokane on Friday and Grand Forks on Saturday. The strong start to the weekend set up a prime opportunity for a six-point weekend and some breathing room atop the standings.
It didn’t work out that way.
“We tried hard, we played hard, we controlled the game… no bounces came our way,” said Leafs’ captain Colton Schell after the game. “I guess it was our time to have a no-bounce night.”
Revelstoke opened the scoring five minutes into the game when Jordan Holloway beat Nelson starter Brett Soles. Less than five minutes later, Holloway scored again. Allowing two goals on three shots, Soles was pulled and replaced with Marcus Beesley.
The Leafs woke up and started to throw pucks at Revelstoke starter Aaron Brandoli for the rest of the opening frame, but with 17 seconds left it was Revelstoke’s Dylan Ossman who scored to make it 3-0.
For the remainder of the game Revelstoke seemed content with icing or dumping the puck. They only managed seven more shots in the final two periods.
The Leafs did press hard, firing 19 shots on Brandoli in the last 40 minutes, but came up empty.
“We just couldn’t bury it and when we did, the ref didn’t see it,” Schell said, referring to a puck that was clearly in midway through the third period but waved off by the officials.
“They were quality shots, but they could have been more out of the chest area. We didn’t pick the corners and get the rebounds.”
It was the Leafs third game of the weekend, but forward Bryce Nielsen said that was no excuse for being dealt the goose egg.
“We weren’t tired, I think we’re the best conditioned team in the league,” Nielsen told the Star. “It was their third game of the weekend as well and we outworked them. The bounces just didn’t go our way.
“It’s the kind of game you just need to forget about. We worked hard and now it’s time to move on.”
Though the Leafs will try to forget the Sunday outing, the standings won’t allow them the luxury. Both Beaver Valley and Castlegar split their weekend games which opened the door for Nelson to pad their first-place lead. The Sunday loss left them two points up on Castlegar and five points up on Beaver Valley. The Rebels have a game in hand while the Leafs and Nitehawks have six games remaining before the post season.
On Friday night against the Spokane Braves, the Leafs came out strong early in the first period and then a Schell tripping penalty turned the tides of the game.
The Braves capitalized on the power play with Brycen Fisher scoring from Dylan Tappe with 10:55 left in the period. It was the Braves second shot of the game to the Leafs six.
Spokane put on the pressure in the second half of the first period outshooting Nelson 10-9 and increasing their lead with a goal from Paxton Bell.
Early in the second, the Braves increased that lead to 3-0 on a goal from Redding with Bell and Kyle Davis assisting.
Adam Power put the Braves in the box on a roughing call nearing the end of the second. On the power play, the Leafs couldn’t get anything going but the tides would turn again – and it was all Leafs for the rest of the game.
JJ Beitel scored with help from Schell and Dustin Reimer with 14:33 left in the period. Keeping up the pressure, the Leafs scored again 30 seconds later on the wrap-around with Aaron Dunlap putting it in the net.
Generating several more good scoring chances through the midway point of the period, the Leafs keep the intensity up and it paid off. Linden Horswill scored the tying goal from on a nice deflection of a Robson Cramer shot with just less than five minutes left in the second period. Just 26 seconds later, the Leafs pulled into the lead with Aaron Dunlap scoring off a bad clearing attempt by the Braves.
Both teams started getting physical toward the end of the second. With 3:16 left in the period, Reimer scored top cheddar on a nice feed from Horswill and Carson Willans making it 5-3 heading to the dressing room after two periods.
The Leafs kept their momentum to start the third with frustration mounting among the Spokane team. Goalie Matt Zenzola took a tripping penalty a minute in – the start of a wave of calls. Leafs Dallon Stoddart made it 6-3 on a power play goal with 7:26 left in the game.
With only a few minutes left in the game, James Sorrey scored on a lucky bounce with Bryce Nielsen getting the assist making it 7-3 for the Leafs. And on the power play, Seth Schmidt scored on a howitzer from the blue line making the final score of the game 8-3.
On Saturday the Leafs once again fell behind early when Border Bruins forward Jacob Jeske scored less than three minutes into the game to give the visitors the 1-0 lead. Midway through the first period, Damin Devin countered on the powerplay to tie the contest.
With four minutes left in the second period Reimer gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead. But refusing to roll over, Grand Forks tied the score before the second period buzzer sounded with a goal by Jackson Purvis.
Nelson regained the lead less than two minutes into the final frame thanks captain Schell.
The Border Bruins did not give up, but could not beat Nelson starter Soles.
James Sorrey salted the win away with an empty-netter.
The Leafs now face a critical home-and-home weekend against the Nitehawks. Friday’s game is in Fruitvale and Saturday’s contest will be played at the NDCC. Puck drops Saturday night at 7 p.m.