Anyone interested in watching the Nelson Leafs play hockey had to wait a period for the team to show up.
The Leafs opened Wednesday’s game against the Spokane Braves with a heinous first period before rallying back from a three-goal deficit en route to a 6-3 win.
The lowly Braves made Nelson look like a team of pylons during a dismal stretch of play that ended with Spokane leading 2-0 after having outshot the Leafs 9-7.
“We were playing like dogs,” said Leafs goaltender Zakery Babin. “We had to pick it up. No way we should be losing to a last-place team like that.”
That period can now be scrubbed from KIJHL history. Nelson gave up another goal early in the second but responded with six unanswered goals to finish the game.
Eamonn Miller scored twice, while Jordan Davie, Andy Fitzpatrick, Matthew Sokol and Blair Andrews also scored for Leafs (16-20-1). Babin made nine saves after coming on in relief for Patrick Ostermann, who gave up three goals on 11 shots.
Troy Pichette scored twice for the Braves (5-27-4) while Kurtis Redding had a single and goaltender Patrick Kasper stopped 25 shots.
Miller scored a power-play goal at 17:37 into the third period on a wrist shot that gave Nelson its first lead of the game. Sokol meanwhile weaved through two Braves defenders and snapped a backhand past Kasper with four minutes left to give Nelson the insurance goal it needed. Andrews added an empty-net goal in the dying seconds.
Miller said the team that returned to the ice after the first intermission was the real Leafs. The dogs, presumably, had been placed on waivers.
“There’s no question,” said Miller. “We had a slow start but the last [Beaver Valley] game and the last 40 minutes [Wednesday], that’s our team. That’s how we should play every night.”
The game started chippy. Each team had two players in the box less than three minutes into the game. Spokane had just killed off a Nelson penalty when Redding fired a one-timer from the face-off circle at 13:24 to give the Braves an unexpected lead on their second shot of the game.
Spokane’s second goal drew plenty of ire from the Leafs players. Pichette collected a bouncing pass ahead of the play and went in on a breakaway. His shot trickled in at 5:38 but appeared to be helped by Pichette making contact with Ostermann – just not enough to be called off.
Ostermann’s evening ended shortly after the second period began. Pichette’s second of the game just a minute and a half in had the Leafs starter showing some anger as he departed in favour of Babin.
The Leafs’ three-goal rally started just over two minutes later on a tip-in by Fitzpatrick that put Nelson on the board but did little to fire up the crowd. There was plenty more enthusiasm however for Miller’s goal at 10:30. He stayed with the puck during a Leafs’ line change – he later said he was unaware a line change was even happening – and stripped Kasper behind the net before circling around for the easy dump-in.
Nelson’s comeback was completed by Davie at 4:28. He jumped on a big rebound during a power play to tie the game at three and finally put some life into what had started off as a forgettable affair. The goal was Davie’s sixth in six games and 12th point during the streak.
“We love winning. We had a rough patch there before the break but we’re back and we’re a new team,” said Miller.
Notes: Leafs defenceman Austin Anselmo was called up to the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles. DiBella said he doesn’t believe Anselmo will return to the team. Defenceman Cole Arcuri meanwhile remains on a personal leave, which meant Nelson played with just five blue-liners Wednesday. … The league’s trade deadline is Sunday. … Nelson visits the Neil Murdoch Division-leading Beaver Valley Nitehawks in Fruitvale on Saturday.