It’s become the rare winning streak so long that it’s easy to forget when it started.
After their game Saturday, the Nelson Leafs coaches were quick to, gently, correct the Star reporter who said they had just won their 10th straight game.
Actually, they said, it was 11 in a row. “It’s big enough it doesn’t matter,” quipped assistant coach Adam DiBella.
He’s not wrong. The Leafs’ 4-2 win over the Beaver Valley Nitehawks at home kept alive a hot streak that has seen them go undefeated in 2022 while also putting them 17 points clear of the Nitehawks atop the Neil Murdoch Division.
They had to work for their latest victory after arriving home around 3 a.m. following Friday’s 5-1 win in Fernie.
“The tank was half empty to start the game and mentally I thought we responded really well with doing what we had to do to get the win,” said head coach Mario DiBella.
Tyler Pisiak, Liam Noble, Bryce Sookro and Tyson Lautard scored for the Leafs (28-9-1), while Tenzin Mint made 26 saves.
Hayden Stocks and Kelton McAuley replied for the Nitehawks (19-17-2), with Kyle Kooznetsoff stopping 33 shots.
Nelson capitalized on a warm-up violation by the visitors for a goal just over a minute into the game. Pisiak’s shot hit the crossbar and dropped behind the line, but momentary confusion meant play continued until an official pointed at the net.
The Leafs held possession throughout the period and controlled play, but the Nitehawks had their chances. Beaver Valley had its best opportunity to tie the game with two minutes left when forward Ollie Clement was a step ahead on a breakaway, but Mint stuck is pad out and made the save just as another Nitehawk and Leaf crashed into the net.
“I think we had a bit of a slow start, a little tired,” said Sookro. “After the first period we got our legs under us.”
Nelson extended its lead shortly after the second period began, albeit for less than a minute. Noble had space in the slot and fired a shot top corner for the 2-0 lead. But the advantage lasted only 26 seconds after Stocks scored on a quick play that developed off the boards to the left of Mint.
The Leafs began the third with the task of standing up to a four-minute Nitehawks power play after Lane Goodwin was served penalties for head contact, high sticking and a 10-minute misconduct in the dying seconds of the second period.
It should have been a tie game by the end, but the Nitehawks failed to put together even one decent shot at Mint. Instead, the Leafs killed off the penalty and shortly after went up 3-1 on a wrist shot by Sookro.
“It was hard to kill off, but I think we picked up some momentum from that and took it from there,” said Sookro.
Mario DiBella said the team had talked about shooting off the rush, which Sookro put into practice with his goal that ended up being the game-winner.
“Bryce makes such mature plays,” said DiBella. “Watching him, it’s a study in how the game should be played from the back end.”
Beaver Valley pulled it back by one on a shot Mint would probably like to see again. McAuley took a close-range shot that Mint got a piece on, but the puck slipped through his jersey and put the visitors back in the game.
But the Leafs reasserted themselves and regained their two-goal lead at 6:52 when Lautard’s point shot lofted over Kooznetsoff’s glove.
The Leafs were again down a man in the final seconds of the game. A scrum developed in front of Mint that got the netminder riled up and ended with Reid Vulcano tossed for head contact. Beaver Valley played without a goalie for the 6-4 man advantage, but whiffed on a big shot and Nelson skated off with its 11th — not 10th — straight win.
Leaflets: Nelson is back home Wednesday night against the Castlegar Rebels. It’s a make-up game after the Rebels were forced to miss one against Nelson earlier this season due to a COVID-19 outbreak on their roster.