Jo Davie didn’t know what more the Nelson Leafs could have done.
After a game in which they seemingly did everything right on offence but still struggled to score, there wasn’t much he could say. A late shot by Davie off the crossbar summed up yet another Leafs loss.
“It’s just heartbreaking watching the puck not cross that line and hit that iron,” said Davie. “It sucks. There’s no worse feeling.”
The Columbia Valley Rockies scored three goals in the second period to beat Nelson 5-2 on Saturday and hand the Leafs their fourth straight loss.
Kellen Marchand scored on a breakaway to cap the Rockies’ second-period explosion. Ryan St. Jean, Doan Smith, Colton Sandboe and Luke Bellerose, with an empty-net goal, also scored for Columbia Valley (16-15-0). Goaltender Giovanni Sambrielaz finished with 34 saves.
Kolten Nelson and Brendan Smith scored for the slumping Leafs (13-15-1), who have just one win in their last 10 games. Netminder Patrick Ostermann stopped 11 shots in the loss, although it may have been more than that as it appeared several shots weren’t being counted early in the first period.
There was a clear tension on the ice, especially from Davie. The Leafs forward was frustrated at one point after a hit put him hard onto the ice but received no attention from the referee. As the rest of the team went to the locker-room after the second intermission, Davie sat alone on the bench.
“Missed calls, like we’ve got guys bleeding on the bench and there’s no penalties, and I’m not blaming the referee but little things aren’t going our way,” said Davie. “Bounces aren’t going our way, calls aren’t going our way, and we’re overcoming those and we’re getting more shots than they are and more opportunities but we can’t bury right now.”
Nelson’s best chance early on came just under seven minutes in the game on a 3-on-1, but Sambrielaz robbed Malcolm Fenelon with a beautiful glove save.
The worst power play in the league did the Leafs no favours. A high-sticking penalty to Michael Cardinal gave Nelson a 5-on-3 advantage for 36 seconds but Sambrielaz shut the door.
Columbia Valley responded with a goal from St. Jean, who tipped in a Donoven Quintin shot from the point at 4:29 past Ostermann.
The Leafs had another shot at tying the game with just over a minute left after Nicholas Ketola stripped a Rockies defender and went in alone, but Sambrielaz made the initial save and the net was knocked loose before the puck could go in.
Columbia River went ahead at 16:03 in the second after forward Smith put the puck over a flailing Ostermann. Rockies captain Sandboe added to the lead with a goal on a wrist shot at 9:33.
Nelson pressed for most of the period and finally broke through, on the power play no less, with a goal from Kolten Nelson at 7:33 to cut the deficit to 3-1.
But that goal, and any momentum the Leafs might have had, was made moot in the final minute of the period. Marchand swiped the puck and took advantage of a breakaway with a highlight-reel goal to put his team back up 4-1.
“We made two blunders with defencemen pinched on the wrong play on a line change,” said Leafs head coach David McLellan. “That’s what happens with a young D, but we need to capitalize on some of the quality chances we had and we didn’t so you end up in a game like that.”
Rockies head coach Wade Dubielewicz said he thought Marchand’s goal put the game permanently in his team’s favour.
“Just happy for Kellen. He finished there and yeah, it’s probably the turning point in the game,” said Dubielewicz.
Nelson was again put on the back foot in the third despite outshooting the Rockies 19-3. Forward Samuel Weber was handed a double minor after high sticking Rockies defenceman Zachary Ross, who briefly left the ice for treatment. Columbia Valley failed to score during the ensuing four-minute man advantage, but the long penalty essentially kept the Leafs from mounting any late comeback.
Smith scored late for the Leafs with Ostermann pulled, but an empty-net goal by Bellerose moments later capped the score in Columbia Valley’s favour.
“Obviously frustrated because we want to win games and we deserved to win the last couple,” said Davie. “We played insanely (well) last night (at Kimberley). Our goalie’s been playing really well. The vibe’s fine, it’s just everyone wants to win so badly. It’s got to come eventually.”
Notes: Defenceman Zach Morey made his home debut after being acquired Tuesday from the Kimberley Dynamiters. He switched jersey numbers from three to 20 for the game. … F Tyler Garcia, F Rayce Miller and D Dashiel Thompson were scratches for the Leafs. … F Liam Thomas, F Damon Raven and F Colby Sherlock were scratches for the Rockies. … The Leafs next visit the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Tuesday.