Nelson Leafs goaltender Frederick Larochelle had a terrific night in net in a 4-0 win over Grand Forks. Photo: Tyler Harper

Nelson Leafs goaltender Frederick Larochelle had a terrific night in net in a 4-0 win over Grand Forks. Photo: Tyler Harper

Larochelle stops 34 as Leafs shut out Border Bruins 4-0

Nelson still has a chance to win the division with one game left

It wasn’t enough for Frederick Larochelle to be the best goalie on the ice Friday night. He was probably also the best puck handler as well.

The Nelson goaltender had one of his best games of the season with a 34-save shutout as the Leafs beat the Grand Forks Border Bruins 4-0 at home.

The Leafs needed Larochelle to be focused and he was, especially on a night where the puck seemed to be taking odd bounces all over the rink. But it was his stick handling, trips behind the net and willingness to keep the play going that stood out.

For some goalies, playing the puck isn’t worth the risk. Larochelle considers it part of what makes him unique.

“I try to do it every game. Sometimes it doesn’t go my way, but I try to like keep the game going,” he said. “Because I mean, it’s better for my team to not get hit behind the net. I pass it, they get out cleanly instead of getting hit and having to battle their way through it.”

Larochelle’s ventures outside the crease were reminiscent of former Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smyth, who became infamous for putting a panic in fans every time he tried to make a play instead of covering up the puck.

But there was no panic in the building Friday. Larochelle was too good, too confident in what he was doing to make mistakes.

Leafs head coach Briar McNaney said the team’s goalie consultant has encourage more puck movement.

“We’re trying to promote these guys to develop as best as they can in any way and having a puck-moving goaltender back there saves our defensemen a lot of problems. So we’ve given our goalies the green light to play the puck whenever they see fit. Definitely worked out tonight.”

Bennett Anklewich, Lucas Byrne, Crae Dawson and Leighton Partington scored for the Leafs (23-15-5), who are mathematically still in the hunt for a division title with just Saturday’s road game against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks remaining.

Nelson, Grand Forks and Beaver Valley are all tied at 51 points heading into the regular season finale. To win the Neil Murdoch Division, the Leafs need to beat the Nitehawks and hope that the lowly Castlegar Rebels can beat the Border Bruins in Grand Forks on Saturday.

Evan Soutar stopped 19 shots Friday for Grand Forks (24-16-3), which needs just one more win to capture its first division title in 30 years. Both the Border Bruins and Nitehawks hold the tiebreaker with one more win than the Leafs, so the numbers aren’t exactly in Nelson’s favour. But there’s still a chance.

“At the end of the day, I’d love to have home-ice advantage,” said McNaney. “I think we can seal that tomorrow no matter what if we beat Beaver Valley. But our goal at the end of the day is to be able to play the best hockey possible and we want to be able to play our best version of ourselves if it’s in our rink or an away rink.”

Larochelle had to be air tight, and a little lucky, early in the game as the visitors put plenty of pressure on Nelson. One shot bounced up and over Larochelle and only some fortuitous physics kept it out of the net.

Nelson had just killed off a penalty when it opened the scoring. A cross-ice pass in front of the Grand Forks crease found Anklewich, who had open net in front of him for the 1-0 lead.

That lead held through an evenly played but otherwise uneventful second period. The third period was immediately more entertaining.

Grand Forks defenceman Carter Price was sent to the box for four minutes after hooking and slashing penalties. Just seven seconds into the power play, Byrne wired a wrist shot past Soutar for the 2-0 advantage.

It was the Leafs again two minutes later. A puck dropped in front of Dawson in the slot, and the Leafs forward spun to get a stick on it and shoot for Nelson’s third goal.

Larochelle meanwhile was sharp on a giveaway that led to a Border Bruins shot on his doorstep, then later in the period made what appeared to be a save by squeezing the puck underneath his armpit.

It was Larochelle again in the final three minutes. A Border Bruin tried to deke in front of him, but Larochelle showed patience to stay with the puck and pad away the shot.

Partington put one last dagger in the visitors. He collected the puck along the boards, skated into the zone uncontested and his rising shot surprised Soutar.

It was a promising win, especially with the playoffs set to start next week.

“The team has come together completely and we’re working hard every game,” said Partington. “We’re battling and winning games.”

@tyler_harper |

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