Few can appreciate the Nitehawks-Leafs rivalry more than Trail minor hockey product and Beaver Valley forward Ethan Smyth; he has lived it his whole life.
So to score two goals and an assist in the Nitehawks 7-3 victory on Tuesday and take a 2-1 lead in the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal series couldn’t be more satisfying.
“It is everything,” said Smyth. “I’ve been playing against these guys my whole childhood so these games are extra special no matter what, especially in playoffs this is the one team I want to beat my whole life.”
The Nitehawks split Games 1 and 2 in Nelson on the weekend, and were determined to grab home ice advantage in front of a near capacity crowd at the Hawks Nest on Tuesday.
The game went back and forth through two periods with B.V. carrying a 3-2 lead into the third.
Leafs defenceman Tyson Lautard was sent off for boarding at the 15:14 mark of the final frame. On the ensuing power play, Beaver Valley gained control in the Leafs end, and a point shot from Gavin Tritt was stopped by Leafs goalie Frederick Larochelle, but B.V.’s top scorer Nathan Dominici fired in the rebound for the game winner and a 4-2 lead.
Nitehawks Coach Terry Jones said the Nitehawks had suffered some injuries to key players going in, but was happy with the way the team stepped up and kept their composure.
“I thought they took advantage of a couple of our mistakes, but by and large we bounced back when we needed to, and a great third period was what we needed,” said Jones.
Beaver Valley had chances early in the match, but it wasn’t until they converted a set play on the face off in the Leafs end that put them on the board. A quick face off win and a slap-pass from Lucas Gartner was tipped in by Smyth through the legs of Larochelle for a 1-0 lead with 4:53 left in the opening frame.
A similar play 62 seconds into the second period saw Smyth win the faceoff and slide it to Boris Hristov who wired it over the glove of the Leafs goalie for a 2-0 lead.
The Leafs Leighton Partington cut the lead to one two minutes later, wiring a shot bar down on Nitehawks goalie Connor Stojan.
But Rossland product Ollie Clement made it 3-1, taking a pass from Dominici and driving to the net, where he lifted a backhand over an outstretched Larochelle.
With five minutes remaining, Leafs forward Crae Dawson broke in all alone and was apparently stopped by Stojan. But the Hawks goalie was called for throwing his stick at the Nelson forward, who was awarded a penalty shot. Dawson made no mistake cutting across and firing it high glove side to make it 3-2.
After Dominici’s game winner, Smyth tallied the insurance marker, driving to the net and going glove side for a 5-2 lead and his third point of the game.
“It’s amazing, two goals is huge, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, my linemates were unbelievable, and just everyone doing their job, that’s all that matters,” said Smyth.
Then in a deja vu moment, the Nitehawks Gavin Tritt was sent off for slashing with 12:39 to play, and the Leafs coach pulled their goalie for an extra attacker and a six on four advantage.
But just like in Game 2, the move backfired and Austin McLean beat the Leafs defence to a Hawks icing and fired the puck into the back of the net for another shorthanded goal.
Nelson’s Drake Proctor made it 6-3 with 4:12 left on the clock, but McLean tallied his second goal on a breakaway to make it a 7-3 final with 47 seconds left in regulation.
“Tomorrow’s a new night now, it’s nice to celebrate this one and then get on to tomorrow night, and hopefully we take care of home ice,” said Jones.
Beaver Valley outshot Nelson 49-37 and were 1-for-3 on the power play, and 2-for-2 on the power play.
The Nitehawks victory sets up an all important Game 4 at the Hawks Nest Wednesday, Feb. 22. A win would give B.V. a definite advantage before heading back to Nelson for Game 5 on Friday.
“They have a bunch of battlers over there, and they’re never out of the game,” added Jones. “We just have to keep the 60, and I sure like the warrior mentality of our guys, they are really playing well.”
In the other Neil Murdoch Division series, the Creston Valley Thundercats took a 2-1 series lead with a 2-1 victory over Grand Forks Border Bruins at home on Tuesday.