KIJHL: Leafs shock Rebels in 4OT marathon

Devin Allen had 53 saves as Nelson won Game 1 of the playoff series.

Nelson Leafs forward Dale Howell battles for the puck during Thursday's playoff game in Castlegar.

Nelson Leafs forward Dale Howell battles for the puck during Thursday's playoff game in Castlegar.

Gatorade, sandwiches and a world-class goaltender helped the Nelson Leafs survive an epic game in Castlegar.

The Leafs had been just 12.6 seconds away from upsetting the Rebels before giving up a tying goal that forced what anyone watching could have assumed might be one or two overtimes.

But then no one could score. Game 1 of their playoff series, which started out quick with plenty of end-to-end action, became a contest to see who could stay upright the longest.

And somehow, through what ended up being a game that went into a fourth overtime, Leafs goaltender Devin Allen was having a blast.

“It was actually really fun,” he said. “It’s a marathon but honestly, when you win, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.”

The Leafs travelled home with that feeling after Sawyer Hunt’s goal in quadruple OT gave the Leafs a stunning 3-2 win over the Rebels to open their KIJHL playoff series Thursday.

Hunt deflected a Dale Howell shot moments into a power play and the team celebrated as though it had just run the Boston Marathon.

In a lot of ways they did. Between periods, the team’s athletic therapist and head coach Mario DiBella’s son left the rink to buy all the sandwiches and Gatorade they could find for the players to keep them going.

Hunt, who said he’d never played a game that long in his life, said it was a physical and mental test.

“You just get really fatigued out there,” said Hunt. “Your mental game starts to go. You kind of get bad habits. It becomes a game of breakdowns too. Who’s going to capitalize on those chances? We just kept battling through.”

Hunt may have scored the game winner, and Logan Wullum had two goals in regulation, but Allen was Nelson’s star. The goaltender was sensational with a 53-save performance, and often kept the Leafs in the game on his own as the Rebels pinned down the visitors.

Allen had a been the team’s nominal backup until Billy Gorn’s injury in January. Once he took over regular duties, Allen struggled through his first six games.

But in the three games just prior to the playoffs, he looked like a different goalie. DiBella said the change in Allen came about because of the extra work off-ice he did to put those struggles behind him.

“Devin’s worked real hard in practice to regain his net,” said DiBella. “He’s worked with our team psychologist as far as some personal things, some tragedy that he experienced in his life. He’s overcome both the personal issues as well as the demons that were chasing him when he’s having a hard time in the net.”

Allen, who said he’d previously played a game with his Albertan Junior B team last year that went to four overtimes, thinks he had been putting too much pressure on himself.

“I had a gut check and realized I’m here to have fun,” he said. “I’m just here to have fun with my teammates and win. It’s just been a blast.”

Kyle Bergh and Logan Styler had the lone goals for the Rebels with Chandler Billinghurst also putting in a heroic effort with 48 saves.

Bergh sent a shockwave through the Rebels’ home crowd with his tying goal. Leafs defenceman Dash Thompson was in the penalty box and Billinghurst was on the bench when Bergh’s wrist shot beat Allen with just 12.6 seconds left.

Of course, no one could have known at that point a full game of hockey (and then some) was still to be played.

Rebels head coach Bill Rotheisler said after the game he thought his team deserved praise for how they played.

“Our boys played well. They did everything they needed to do to win,” he said. “They should be proud.”

Game 2 goes Saturday in Castlegar. The series turns to Nelson for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

Nelson opened the game with plenty of pace, highlighted by an early breakaway chance for Wullum that went wide. But it was the KIJHL’s scoring champ who was the first to find the back of the net.

Styler, who finished the regular season with 26 goals and 54 assists, broke out after a sustained period of Leafs pressure. He cut across Allen and whipped a nasty wrist shot at 8:21 to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead.

Nelson was undaunted by the deficit, however, and came back firing in the second. Wullum had a second chance at a breakaway and didn’t disappoint, taking a long pass at the Rebels’ blue-line and shooting top shelf to tie the game up at one at 8:02.

Nelson took the lead five minutes into the third period on the power play. Rebels defenceman Dallas Goodwin was charged with a checking-to-the-head penalty and the Leafs took advantage, with Wullum diving to bang the puck in past Billinghurst.

(Goodwin was also later charged with a dangerous checking-from-behind penalty that left Howell sprawled out on the ice holding his head in the fourth overtime. Goodwin was tossed from the game, and Howell eventually got up and stayed in the game, only to assist Hunt on the game-winning goal.)

Allen utterly robbed Styler halfway through the third period. The Rebels sniper was left alone on the side of the net for a one-timer, but Allen flashed his glove to keep the Leafs ahead.

The Leafs goaltender took a hard hit with four minutes left. Castlegar’s Daneel Lategan bowled over Allen, leaving the netminder slow to get up but no worse for wear.

The Leafs and Rebels fell short of setting a record Thursday night. The longest KIJHL game was March 17, 2008 when the Revelstoke Grizzlies and Kamloops Storm needed five overtimes to finish.

DiBella said he’d never gone through a four-overtime game as either a player or a coach. “This is a first,” he said with a grin, “and I’m old.”

With files from Castlegar News reporter Chelsea Novak.

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