Tulsen Fawcett may have missed his calling.
The Nelson Leafs rookie has lived his hockey life at the blueline since he was put on defence by his father as a kid. But after scoring two goals and adding two assists while playing forward Saturday night, Fawcett joked he might need to give his father a call.
“One game’s just a fluke,” said Fawcett. “If I put together a bit of a streak I might have to give my dad some hell.”
Fawcett looked like a natural forward in Nelson’s 4-3 win over the Fernie Ghostriders. The Leafs have been experimenting with playing defencemen up front — Michael LeNoury, for example, has been a common sight in the crease during power plays — and on Saturday it was Fawcett’s turn.
It’s hard to argue with the strategy.
“He was a force out there and certainly we need to get bodies to the net and sometimes our skill guys have a hard time finding that path because they are trying to make that extraordinary play,” said head coach Mario DiBella.
“Sometimes it just comes down to getting the meat and potatoes right in front of the goaltender and taking away his eyes.”
Emery Neilson and Jack Karran also scored singles for Nelson (34-10-2) while Caiden Kreitz stopped 19 shots as the Leafs won their seventh straight.
Sawan Gill, Brendan Nemes, Tristan Downe replied for Fernie (25-15-7), and Justin Faiella made 22 saves.
Nelson needed some offensive help after losing forward David Sanchez to a broken leg Friday against Spokane. DiBella said the coaching staff decided to give Fawcett a shot at forward after mulling over a roster that’s recently also lost forward Logan Wullum for the season.
“It’s tough when a guy like Sanchez goes down,” said Fawcett. “Everyone has to do what they can to chip in what he brings.”
Nelson’s forecheck caused the visitors trouble to start the first period but didn’t result in a goal. Fernie, fresh off a loss in Grand Forks one night earlier, looked sharp defensively but also struggled to spend any time in the Leafs’ zone.
They were productive when they were on the offence, however, and the scoreless period finished with Fernie holding an 8-7 shot advantage.
Slick stick handling led to the Leafs’ first goal five minutes into the second period.
Neilson collected the puck and went 1-on-1 with a Ghostriders defender. Neilson briefly lost the puck but recovered by passing it to himself between the defenceman’s legs as he casually spun and fired a shot that beat Faiella for the 1-0 lead.
Cole Wyatt and Fawcett teamed up for the Leafs’ second goal just three minutes later. Wyatt showed patience on Faiella’s doorstep before he slid a pass through the top of the crease to Fawcett for the goal. Fawcett said Wyatt deserved credit for making the play happen.
“[Wyatt] waited out the D-man and didn’t just shoot it right into [the goalie] when he slid. It was good for him to wait it out to make sure I was open so he could get it over to me.”
A penalty to Kaleb Comishin led to Fernie getting on the scoreboard with about five minutes left in the period. Gill whipped a shot from near the blueline that beat Kreitz and gave the Ghostriders a lifeline.
That lifeline led to a tie game before the period ended. The teams were playing 4-on-4 when Nemes found space down the wing and fired a wristshot that was too quick for Kreitz to react to.
The Leafs owed their goaltender daps early in the third. Nelson was on a power play when Fernie’s Nikolas Sombrowski broke out past the Leafs’ defence. He waited to make his move but was denied by Kreitz, who slid to his left and closed his pads to keep the game level.
That save was made all the more important moments later. Kalem Hanlon fired a shot from the point that rebounded off Faiella only for a waiting Fawcett to backhand into an empty net for his second goal of the game.
“Fawcett, he played great, honestly,” said Karran. “He just did all the right things, chipping pucks out, getting hard on the forecheck, everything we needed him to do he was there and he got rewarded.”
It would have been a two-goal lead had Faiella not made what was arguably the save of the game. Reid Wilson had a breakaway of his own and tried to go backhand with his shot, but Faiella flashed a glove to tip the puck over his net.
The Ghostriders’ offence kept up the pressure. Downe tied the game once again for the visitors with a point shot halfway through the period.
But the Leafs replied less than a minute later. Faiella made an initial save on Karran, but couldn’t deny the Leafs captain on the rebound.
Fernie pulled Faiella with nearly two minutes left, prompting a long push to score the tying goal against Nelson. But the Leafs defence held strong, and kept their winning streak intact.
Leaflets: The Leafs coaching staff said Sanchez is expected to be out five to six weeks, which will mean he could return if the team manages to advance to the Kootenay Conference finals in March. … Nelson ends the regular season next weekend with a visit to Grand Forks on Friday followed by a home game against the Braves on Saturday.