Devin Allen didn’t know what to expect.
He’d been cut from his Junior A team in Alberta and sat at home for three days expecting to just go back to work. Instead he got a call from the Nelson Leafs.
“I started my job and (Leafs head coach Mario DiBella) called me and said he wanted me to come down,” said Allen. “Of course I wanted to come down instead of just sit at home. I just wanted to play hockey. Headed down here and seeing the guys, it seems like a pretty good team and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Maybe not as happy as the Leafs are to have him.
Allen made 31 saves Saturday as the Nelson defeated the Castlegar Rebels 4-3. He was sharp all game, but Allen was particularly good in the third period as the Rebels pressed. In one sequence, Allen faced down two quick shots, one off the chest and another off the face mask, and displayed terrific rebound control throughout the game.
“I just really rely on my positioning and my stick,” he said. “I was fortunate that some of the stuff I don’t see just hits me and I have good luck with it.”
It was only his second KIJHL game but, with Nelson’s No. 1 goalie Jason Sandhu injured, it won’t be Allen’s last.
His play impressed teammate Dale Howell, who himself put on a show Saturday with two goals.
“We’ve kind of had that next guy up mentality,” said Howell. “From goaltending out, any night could be any player who steps up. [Allen’s] played great for us so far and we’re definitely lucky to have him here. Jason’s a great goalie and it’s nice to have a second guy in there who can step in and get us wins.”
Jack Karran, and David Lenzin also scored for the Leafs (5-4-1), who led 4-0 heading into the third period.
Logan Styler scored twice and Jesse Reeds added one for the Rebels (3-6-0). Jason Mailhiot, meanwhile, allowed all four goals on 32 shots.
Some sharp presence of mind led to the Leafs’ first goal after Karran picked the pocket of a Rebels defender. He passed to Colum McGauley from his knees, then scrambled back up for a return pass before beating Mailhiot over his left shoulder just over six minutes into the game.
Another Rebels giveaway resulted in a Leafs goal at 6:15 of the first. A Castlegar defender wheeled around his own net but Howell was waiting at the post to strip the puck and slap it past Mailhiot for the 2-0 lead.
The period featured an unexpected fight in the dying minutes. Zach Morey and Justin Podgorenko dropped the glove and threw punches at each other for nearly a minute before a pair of referees had to pry them off each other.
The pace kept up after the break. Nelson took a 3-0 lead on Howell’s second goal at 13:49. Sawyer Hunt charged the net and missed his shot, but he kept up the forecheck and managed to bounce the puck to Howell, who had a clear look at an empty net.
“It’s been nice to get off to a good start personally,” said Howell, who leads the team in scoring with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists). “Obviously you want the team success to come first, but it’s a nice new team here, get the monkey off my back and hopefully the team starts rolling as well.”
As Castlegar struggled to capitalize on its chances, the Leafs didn’t let theirs go unrewarded. Rebels forward Daneel Lategan and defenceman Vince Bitonti were both in the sin bin when Lenzin scored only seconds into the 5-on-3.
Complacency appeared to set in for Nelson in the third period. The Leafs came out considerably slower than the Rebels, and it paid off for Castlegar eight minutes in. They caught the Leafs on a 3-on-1 with Reeds beating Allen to end his shutout bid.
The Rebels pulled to within two on a nasty snapshot by Styler. He took a pass and whipped the shot that Allen had no chance on.
Castlegar kept up the pressure, pinning the Leafs in their own zone on a shift that looked like a power-play save the fact Nelson had all five players on the ice. Frustration set in, and with less than five minutes left Kolten Nelson was tossed for hitting a player from behind.
Castlegar got one more with just six seconds left. Styler beat the Leafs’ defencemen and used another quick shot to beat Allen blocker side. Time, however, wasn’t with the Rebels and the Leafs left the ice with a win.
“We’re still trying to find our 60-minute game,” said Howell. “Our highs are really high and then we kind of let off, be it the second period or the third period. I think that’s just our biggest challenge so far is trying to play that complete 60 minutes, but there’s still lots of season left. I think come playoff time we’ll definitely have that corrected.”
Leaflets: Several Leafs are already out with injuries in the early season. F Eamonn Miller, D Jacob Karran, D Dash Thompson, and Sandhu are on the sidelines. … Nelson next hosts Grand Forks on Friday and Spokane the following Saturday.