Johnny Carmichael happened to be in the right place at the right time not once, but twice Friday night.
The Nelson Leafs were trailing just 22 seconds into regulation on a goal that threatened to deflate them early, but they tied the game on a crucial Carmichael deflection only four minutes later.
Then in the third, Carmichael was well placed for a go-ahead goal on a rebound and Nelson went on to earn a 6-3 win over the Columbia Valley Rockies.
If the first goal was all about positioning, the second was Carmichael knowing exactly where he had to skate hard to on his first shift of the period.
“Just crash the net, that’s how I’m going to get the goals,” he said.
The Leafs exploded for four goals in the third period to beat the Rockies, who entered the game atop the Eddie Mountain Division.
Liam Noble, Tyler Pisiak, Joe Davidson and Seamus Boyd each had singles for the Leafs (4-3-1), while Tenzin Mint made 22 saves.
Bret Gerrits, Colby Phillips, Jakob McLean replied for the Rockies (6-3-1), with Grady Nicholas stopping 22 shots.
“Huge win for the boys,” said Carmichael. “[The Rockies are] one of the top teams in the league and we showed we can play and be better than anybody here. We’ve just got to stick to it.”
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said his players responded to some individual and group feedback at the second intermission that reset them for an offensive breakout in the third period.
“I thought as a team we responded well. I think that, like they did in the first period, we capitalized on some of the offensive opportunities we had in the third period and we made their goaltender look like he was still in midget hockey.”
The Rockies needed just 22 seconds to get on the scoreboard. A point shot from McLean floated toward the net and deflected off Gerrits past Mint for the very early lead.
The goal didn’t appear to shake Nelson, which pushed back throughout the period and was rewarded with four minutes left before the break on another tip-in. Leafs defenceman Bryce Sookro’s point shot was deflected by Carmichael to put both teams back on even ground.
Three minutes later Nelson had its first lead of the night. Noble whipped a shot off a faceoff that stunned Nicholas, who was too slow to react to the top-corner goal.
Nelson’s offence faded in the second and the Rockies capitalized at 11:33. Gerrits had no Leafs blueliner in front of him when he found Phillips with a cross-ice pass that was converted into a goal to tie the game at two.
A terrific individual effort from Noble regained Nelson’s lead only one minute into the third period. He carried the puck alone around Nichols and attempted a wraparound, only for Carmichael to jump on a rebound and score.
The advantage was short lived. Players were scrumming in front of Mint when the puck slipped out to McLean, who roofed it over the pile of bodies to tie the game back up at three.
Nelson again took the lead on a beauty shot by Pisiak. Simon Nemethy fed him the puck from centre ice and Pisiak was undefended as he skated to the net and beat Nichols with a backhand.
Davidson gave the Leafs some insurance with his first goal of the season, which happened to be a doozy. He collected the puck at the blueline, charged Nichols and put on the brakes at the crease. That forced Nichols to make a premature move, and Davidson tapped in a cheeky goal for the 5-3 lead.
Davidson said the move originated from a practice drill. “It’s pretty much just muscle memory.”
Nelson put the game out of reach with less than three minutes left. Rhett Hamilton’s no-look pass found Boyd alone, and he had an open net in front of him to put the Leafs up 6-3.
The Leafs have been among the teams scuffling early in the season, but Davidson said the win against Columbia Valley is a good sign.
“I think everything’s falling into place,” he said. “I think we’re going to be a bit of a sleeper team. People are going to underestimate our skill. Just like two years ago, we’re going to come out every game and give it our best.”
Leaflets: The Leafs kick off a four-game road trip Saturday against the Grand Forks Border Bruins. They return home Nov. 13 for a rematch against Grand Forks. … Before the game, the Nelson Leafs Recycling Centre presented a $14,000 donation to the Kootenay Lake Hospital Foundation. The Leafs have raised $77,000 for the foundation over the last 12 years.