Josh Williams knew exactly who to credit with his fifth shutout of the season.
The Nelson Leafs goaltender leads the KIJHL in wins, save percentage and shutouts, but he had a relatively quiet game Sunday afternoon. Instead it was the defensive corps who shined in a 2-0 victory over the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
The effort at the blueline wasn’t lost on Williams.
“Impeccable,” he said. “I think [Beaver Valley] had what, zero shots from the slot probably?”
Ethan Land and Jack Karran each scored for the Leafs (23-6-3), with Williams stopping 16 shots for his second consecutive shutout.
At the other end of the ice, Liam Coulter made 18 saves for the Nitehawks (17-12-3).
The low shooting, and scoring, affair was hardly a black mark on a fun 60 minutes of hockey. The pressure reached a crescendo in the third period when Sawyer Hunt’s slick pass to Land set up a slapshot and eventual game winner.
The goal was a long time coming for Land — it was only his third goal of the season and first since Oct. 21.
“It’s been a while since I scored,” said the relieved-looking defenceman after the game. “Just felt good to finally put one in the net.”
The game opened with a snappy first period with both teams eager to make up lost time. The two teams had played part of the first period the night before in Fruitvale before a power outage cut the contest short.
Hunt was set loose on a pass by David Sanchez on the game’s first breakaway, but the Leafs captain returned to the bench without a goal after his shot went high on Coulter.
The frenetic pace continued into the second period in a game that featured plenty of defensive highlights.
A good example of this occurred during a Nitehawks power play. Jaiden LaPorte managed to get the puck out of Nelson’s zone, battled off two opposing players and kept the effort up all the way to the boards behind Coulter, taking plenty of time off the man advantage.
Then, moments after the power play ended, Leafs defenceman Michael Bladon sprawled out to block a dangerous 2-on-1 opportunity.
“Everyone was going. We didn’t have any weak links,” said Land.
Logan Wullum then looked to snipe the top corner in the dying seconds of the period before Coulter got his blocker up to keep the game scoreless.
The stalemate finally ended five minutes into the third period.
Hunt’s pass deep in the Nitehawks zone found Land, who responded with a slapshot and an emphatic fist pump when the goal light lit up. The goal was such a relief that Williams skated all the way out from his crease to the blueline just to fist bump Land during the celebration.
“When I saw the pass go I thought, ‘Wow, he should have taken the shot,’” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. “But it was a perfect pass right onto Ethan’s stick and he buried it. It was a fantastic play with a great result.”
Ten minutes later the lead was very nearly 2-0. Justin Podgorenko carried the puck across the blueline and had LaPorte open, but LaPorte fanned on the shot with an open net in front of him.
An interference call on Leafs defenceman Brendan Makay put Nelson on its heels with three minutes left in regulation. That led to a terrific shot by Nighthawks forward Jaxen Gemmell, who was denied by a likewise excellent save from Williams.
Beaver Valley pulled Coulter in the final minute, and that opened the door for an empty-net goal from centre ice for Karran that sent the Leafs into 2018 with a win.
Leaflets: Both teams will resume Friday’s game at a later date with Nelson leading 1-0. … F Ryan Cooper returned to the Leafs after a brief call-up by the BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors last week. … The Leafs now have more points this season than they did for the entirety of the 2016-17 campaign. … Nelson visits Fruitvale again on Friday before hosting the Kimberley Dynamiters on Saturday. … Attendance was 550, and provided a good argument for more matinee games at the Nelson and District Community Complex.