It wasn’t that long ago Logan Wullum and Eamonn Miller would have happily traded punches instead of passes.
The Nelson Leafs’ linemates came to blows during the Trail Smoke Eater’s August training camp. But that’s all in the past now, right guys?
“We played each other twice,” said Miller. “In the first game we got in a little scrum and we were jawing back and forth, nothing happened. In the second game he asked me to go again. … He was just giving me cross checks to the back of the head. I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’
“We were joking about going out there and fighting as a team last time. It’s good. I like the guy.”
At the very least he likes Wullum’s passes. Miller scored on a slick feed from Wullum during Nelson’s 3-2 loss to the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Saturday.
For what it’s worth, Wullum likes lining up with Miller instead of against him.
“Now that I’m here we’re good buddies and we’re actually finding good chemistry and finding the back of the net, so it’s awesome,” said Wullum, who was acquired by Nelson on Monday.
The Leafs could have used more of that chemistry against Grand Forks.
Dylan Haney scored late in the third to put the Border Bruins ahead for good. Colin MacDonald and Chad Grambo also scored for the Grand Forks (11-8-4), who got a 26-save performance from Tyler Loura.
Mason Mullaney added a single for the Leafs (9-14-2), while Jason Sandhu stopped 20 shots. Nelson has now lost three in a row and has just one win in its last 11 games.
Grand Forks stunned the Leafs on the go-ahead goal with just over five minutes left in regulation.
Silas Johnson had an open lane and slid across Sandhu’s doorstep. The Leafs’ goaltender followed the puck but was caught off-guard as Johnson dropped a pass back to a wide-open Haney, who had nothing but net next to him.
Leafs forward Dale Howell fanned on a shot moments later, and Miller followed suit with a late breakaway that Loura denied. Nelson pulled Sandhu but that was just a gift to Grambo, who deposited the empty-netter to secure the win.
Mullaney fired a wrist shot just inside the faceoff circle with 40 seconds left to jump start the Leafs, but it was too late.
The result seemed unfair for the Leafs, who constantly pressured Grand Forks on Saturday. Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said he couldn’t believe some of the shots his players took that didn’t go in.
“When you look at four crossbars, one that hits the bottom of the crossbar and still doesn’t go in, you have to wonder if there’s a jinx on us or some sort of omen that’s keeping the puck from going in the net,” he said.
Hostilities flared early in the game. Halfway into the first period the shoving began behind the Leafs’ net, the first hint of what was to come.
The Leafs were outshooting their opponents but, as has often been the case this season, they still found themselves behind despite the offensive effort. A mental error by Sandhu resulted in a giveaway, and MacDonald was there to give the Border Bruins a 1-0 at 3:56.
More chippy play after the intermission resulted in both teams sharing four roughing penalties throughout the second period. The Leafs nearly paid for it with Colum McGauley and Jacob Karran in the sin bin, but the fourth-best penalty kill in the league handled the pressure.
The goal drought didn’t last long into the third.
Wullum zipped a pass into the slot and onto the tape of Miller’s stick. Miller went over Loura’s shoulder to tie the game at one less than three minutes into play.
Defenceman Brennan Grocock, who joined Wullum in the deal with Creston Valley, nearly put Nelson ahead moments later. The ferocity of his slapshot caught Loura by surprise but the puck rang off the post.
Grocock later fired another shot off a crossbar, which didn’t help the Leafs on the scoreboard but impressed DiBella all the same.
“Wullum brings an energy that’s infectious,” said DiBella. “He goes hard to the net. He’s got a good shot. Grocock can motor with the puck and he just gives us another element. He’s that fourth forward in the offensive zone and he’s an offensive threat.”
A quick play in Grand Forks’ zone ended up with Sam Weber getting pushed over Loura, sparking protests from the Border Bruins goaltender and several fights that had been brewing all night. It ended with four players penalized and plenty of chirping going on in the box.
By the time the game was over, both teams had split 11 roughing penalties between them. That suits Wullum just fine – playing fast and rough is his kind of hockey.
“Being here only a couple days I’m noticing that our team’s a lot more physical than Creston,” he said. “I like that. That’s my style of play too, a physical player. I think if we keep using the physicality we’re going to move on up higher in the ranks and it’s going to be a good year for us.”
Leaflets: Leafs F Jordan Unger sat out to serve a suspension incurred during Wednesday’s game in Castlegar. … The Leafs hosted Nelson Friends of the Family during Saturday’s game. A silent auction was held to benefit the organization, who support local families in times of crisis.