A scary hit ensured Liam Noble never saw his own game-winning goal.
The Nelson Leafs forward had picked up the puck deep in the attacking zone only to double back, skate around a defender into the slot and whip in a shot.
At the moment he fired, Noble was hit by Grand Forks’ Matteus Reis. The puck went in top corner, but Noble was already on the ice holding his head when the goal horn buzzed.
“Honestly I thought it went five-hole,” said Noble. “I got hit in the head hard enough to think it was going five-hole, but got lucky and it went top shelf for me.”
Reis went to the penalty box, and Noble’s goal held up as the game winner as the Leafs beat the Border Bruins 4-2 on Saturday.
Noble said after the game he didn’t suffer a concussion, but the rough play throughout the game raised the ire of Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. Both teams split 32 penalties, and DiBella said he thought the Border Bruins were head hunting.
“When you see that we’ve outskilled them the entire game and they turn to attempting our players, they’ve got guys running around two-handing our players across the head, spearing them in front of the net, it’s just not hockey and it’s not something our fans deserve and it’s not something our team deserves.”
Between penalties, when hockey was actually being played, there wasn’t much of a contest on the ice.
Simon Nemethy scored twice, while Marko Pavlovich and Liam Noble scored for the Leafs (8-4-1), who moved back into a tie for first place with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks atop the Neil Murdoch Division. Goaltender Tenzin Mint finished with 20 saves.
Ethan Shebansky was forced to stop 52 shots for the Border Bruins, who are now winless through 12 games this season. Brydon Bell and Ray Warrack each had singles for the visitors.
The Leafs dominated early and had held the visitors to zero shots through the first seven minutes when Nelson took the lead. Seamus Boyd was behind the net undefended when he found Pavlovich in front of Shebansky for an easy goal.
Three minutes later it was Nelson again thanks to some heads up play by Johnny Carmichael and Noble.
Carmichael held the puck at the blueline, waited for his teammates to get onside, and fed Noble. He drew in a Grand Forks defender and backhanded a pass to a wide open Nemethy, whose shot was too quick for Shebansky to react to for the 2-0 lead.
Noble said he never actually saw Nemethy, but heard him call for the puck.
“I was actually thinking shoot and then I heard Nemes calling for me. Obviously it’s pretty easy to get the puck to Nemes and hopefully it’s going into the net.”
Nemethy said he thought it was important for the Leafs to score early goals against the struggling Border Bruins.
“They’re looking for their first win still so they’re going to come out flying every game and we’ve just got to match that. We’ve got to stick to our game plan and play our game and trust our teammates and trust everyone is going to get the job done. That’s what happened tonight and it worked out pretty well.”
At even strength the Leafs were rarely challenged. But penalties piled up for the home team and kept them from adding to their lead.
Nelson had two players in the box when Grand Forks cut the lead in the second period. Bell had plenty of space during a 4-on-3 when he fired a shot top corner that beat Mint.
Noble then restored the Leafs’ two-goal advantage with his goal as the period came to a close.
Nelson was lucky to get through the period with the lead. Bell rang a shot off the post in the final minute, and moments later Nelson’s Tyson Lautard stretched out to cover off a wide open net and steal a goal from the visitors.
The second period ended with both team’s sharing 14 penalties, while the third started with a 5-on-3 for the Border Bruins. The Leafs survived that, only for Nelson defenceman Reid Vulcano to take a double minor shortly after.
Vulcano was still in the box when Nemethy scored a goal that left Shebansky shaking his head. Nemethy looked like he was dumping the puck from centre ice when the puck bobbled on the Grand Forks goalie and slipped by.
Nemethy now has three short-handed goals this season and his first Junior B goal from centre ice. “Never seen that here before. That’s a pretty interesting one.”
The game seemed wrapped up when Grand Forks added one more to the scoreboard. Warrack forced a giveaway behind Mint and surprised the Leafs netminder by tucking the puck into the net.
That made little difference to the result, and the game ended with two fights in the final minutes.
Leaflets: The Leafs and Border Bruins next play a rematch in Grand Forks on Tuesday. Nelson is then on the road for two games Friday and Saturday against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.