Sawyer Hunt knows all the quirks of the Nelson Leafs’ home ice.
When a teammate fired a shot that missed the net, Hunt knew the exact bounce the puck would take off the boards.
“I just knew I needed to put myself on the side of the net,” said the Leafs captain. “The goalie went down, so I just put it up high. Thankfully it went in. I barely even saw it but I looked back and it was in the corner of the net so it was a good feeling.”
Hunt’s goal in overtime gave the Leafs a 3-2 victory Wednesday night against the Kimberley Dynamiters.
Kyle Rosolowski and Nicholas Wihak also scored for the Leafs (17-16-4), whose last four games have all gone to overtime. Nelson goaltender Billy Gorn meanwhile made 33 saves.
Wihak, who now has goals in consecutive games after being acquired by the Leafs in late December, said his team tried not to dwell on a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Creston Valley on Saturday prior to greeting Kimberley.
“There wasn’t a lot of negativity after the game,” he said. “We kind of just took that and came to the game ready to go.”
Nicholas Ketola and Brandt Bertoia replied for Kimberley (26-9-1), who lost in overtime for the first time this season. Cody Call stopped 30 shots in the Dynamiters’ net.
Hunt and Ketola were swapped in a deal between the Leafs and Dynamiters during the off-season, and both players were often in the middle of the action Wednesday.
Kimberley didn’t give Nelson much room to work once the puck dropped. The Leafs were held to just one shot in the game’s first 10 minutes.
Ketola was wide open to give Kimberley a 1-0 lead at 9:02 of the first period. He snuck in behind the Leafs’ defence for a pass from Chase Miller, then deked and snuck a shot through Gorn’s five-hole.
Sam Weber and Alex Meeker went to the box for individual penalties, giving Kimberley an extended 5-on-3 advantage. But the Dynamiters’ best chance was a shot that rang off the crossbar, and Nelson survived the penalty kill.
That they survived the period was a feat unto itself. Kimberley outshot Nelson 14-6 by the buzzer.
If the Dynamiters outskilled the Leafs in the first, Nelson outworked the visitors in the second. The Leafs relied on forechecks and hustle to wear down Kimberley, and the tactics change paid off.
Rosolowski put Nelson on the board after several Leafs had taken whacks at the puck. The big defenceman unleashed a slapshot that had Call beat before the puck left the stick.
Less than a minute late Nelson thought it had another goal, only to have it waved off. But the Leafs kept pressing, and with 39 seconds left Wihak whipped a wrist shot that gave his team a deserved 2-1 lead heading into the intermission.
“They’re a resilient group,” said Leafs coach Mario DiBella. “They have the will and adjust when challenged and were full marks for how they bounced back in the second period. I felt it could have been as easily 4-1 as 2-1 after the period.”
Kimberley took advantage of a bad turnover in the third during a Leafs power play. Hunt and Jack Karran collided in the neutral zone and the Dynamiters jumped on the puck, with Devon Langelaar finding Bertoia on a 2-on-1 for a shot that tied the game at two.
Hunt was happy his OT goal meant he didn’t have to dwell on the turnover. “I’m going to forget about that one and just focus on the win,” he said.
Nelson very nearly took the lead on a 2-on-1 of its own with five minutes remaining. Ryan Piva’s saucer pass skipped over the stick of a Dynamiters defenceman, but Karran’s shot just missed the empty net.
The Leafs took over a power play with just over two minutes left in the regulation. But yet another ugly turnover, this beginning with the broken stick of Aigne McGeady-Bruce, gave the Dynamiters a short-handed chance that required nerves of adamantium by Gorn to stop.
That save sent the Leafs another overtime, and eventually two very important points.
“It’s a huge win,” said Wihak. “We’ve been battling pretty hard, battling a lot the past couple weeks and gone to OT quite a bit. It was good to close that one out.”
Leaflets: Nelson D Michael LeNoury, who the Leafs acquired at Tuesday’s trade deadline, was present for the game but didn’t dress. … Kimberley played without a backup goaltender on the bench. … The Leafs next host the Spokane Braves on Sunday at 2 p.m.