KIJHL: Surging Leafs win third in a row

Nelson doubled the Grand Forks Border Bruins 4-2 on Sunday.

Leafs forward Ryan Piva waits for a puck drop Sunday against the Border Bruins.

Jack Karran couldn’t believe his luck.

The Nelson Leafs forward was set to take a faceoff when captain Sawyer Hunt told him to shoot from the dot instead of pass, then skate in for the rebound. It’s not a play designed to beat goaltenders on the initial shot — except that’s exactly what happened. The puck trickled past a surprised goalie, and Karran laughed as he skated off to celebrate with his teammates.

“It’s never happened to me,” said Karran. “I’ve never seen it either. It’s the coolest goal I’ve scored.”

The unlikely goal turned out to be the game winner as the Leafs beat the Grand Forks Border Bruins 4-2 on Sunday night to win their third in a row.

Dale Howell, Logan Wullum and Jordan Unger also scored for Nelson (12-14-2), which hadn’t previously won three in a row since Oct. 15. Goaltender Billy Gorn got the nod for the second straight night but was rarely tested, finishing with 15 saves.

Dylan Haney and Garet Brisebois each scored for the Border Bruins (12-10-4), while Tyler Loura stopped 35 shots.

One night after an electrifying win over the league-leading Creston Valley Thunder Cats, the Leafs needed to take care of business against a team they are chasing in the Neil Murdoch Division standings. They started off slowly, but soon found their step and dominated possession against Grand Forks.

Memories of November, during which the Leafs won just twice in 10 games, are already starting to fade.

“We were down on ourselves, but the win against Creston really got us going just to play better tonight,” said Karran. “Came in a little slow tonight but I thought we picked it up and played pretty well.”

The first 10 minutes of play were highlighted by fantastic stops on both ends of the ice. Gorn, one night after making 27 saves in his Leafs debut, stood tall on a Border Bruins odd-man rush before blocking two more quick shots. Loura meanwhile flashed his glove to rob a top-shelf shot on a streaking Howell.

The Leafs capitalized on their first power play of the game. They had trouble getting shots off until Colum McGauley tapped a pass to Howell, who went five-hole on Loura for a 1-0 lead with six minutes left in the first.

Still, Nelson head coach Mario DiBella said his players were a half-step slower than the breakneck pace of Saturday’s game against Creston.

“It was a very emotional game yesterday,” said DiBella. “It’s hard to keep that intensity and that emotion running two games in a row, but I thought we responded really well in the second period. … We essentially came on like gang busters and we’re full value for that period.”

They sure were. Nelson took control of the game in the second period, outshooting Grand Forks 18-3. Only 45 seconds after the break Hunt jumped into the opposing zone and passed to Wullum, who was waiting on Loura’s doorstep for an easy goal.

Karran’s goal followed, and the Leafs’ defence stepped up to stifle Grand Forks. But the Border Bruins still managed a goal thanks to a power play. Haney had a clear look at the net on a cross-ice pass that cut Nelson’s lead to 3-1.

Loura made the save of the game with just over a minute to go in the period. He made the initial save then went post-to-post to deny Brennan Grocock on the rebound.

The game downshifted in the third with more players bouncing off each other than pucks off sticks.

Nelson squandered four minutes on the power play after Border Bruins winger Silas Johnson took a double minor for slashing. That could have been costly if it weren’t for a tremendous solo effort by Unger. He stole the puck in the neutral zone, held off a defender and deked Loura to put the Leafs up 4-1 with five minutes left.

The effort completed an eventful weekend for Unger, who was tossed from Saturday’s game after dropping the gloves. After the game Unger said he’s finding success in playing with a chip on his shoulder.

“I’ve never been that kind of player before. It’s different,” said Unger. “I have like 50 penalty minutes [actually it’s 46 minutes in just 13 games], that’s more than my whole life. It’s working so far so I’ll keep it up I guess.”

Grand Forks made things interesting a minute later. Brisebois was in front of Gorn when he batted in a bouncing puck, cutting Nelson’s lead to two.

The Border Bruins called a timeout and soon after pulled Loura. But that didn’t help them on the ice, however, and the Leafs skated away with another much-needed victory.

Unger said he isn’t usually a player who looks at standings, and didn’t take a peek at all during the November slide.

“But now after these three wins here, we’re going to be tuning into the standings more, seeing if we can move up before Christmas,” he said.

Leaflets: F Sam Weber (lower body) was the lone injury on the Leafs roster. … Nelson next visits Castlegar on Friday before hosting Golden on Saturday.

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