The Nelson Leafs may have won the game, but their losses are mounting.
The Leafs defeated the Grand Forks Border Bruins 6-4 on Friday night, but in the process lost starting goalie Brad Rebagliati to injury and league-leading scorer Jamie Vlanich to suspension. It is not clear how long either player will be out.
With the game well in hand in the third period – the Leafs had a 6-2 lead – an already chippy game got even more intense.
Early in the third period, a Grand Forks player rushed towards the Nelson net and collided with Rebagliati who had his right leg banged into the post. After the play the netminder was visibly limping and eventually left the game in favour of backup Adam Maida.
“It’s day-to-day, but I won’t be playing tomorrow,” said Rebagliati.
On Saturday the Leafs play the Border Bruins again, this time in Grand Forks.
He hopes to be ready to go back in the net by next week when the Leafs wrap up the season against the second place Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
“That’s the important game. The Beaver Valley game, and obviously going into the playoffs, is a lot more important than a couple of games against Grand Forks.”
As the game wore on, the intensity kept building.
“Everything gets amplified. The hitting is bigger, everyone is hacking down on sticks more, it’s playoff hockey. It’s grittier. It’s a whole different thing than regular season hockey.”
That was also evident in the third period when sniper Vlanich and Grand Forks Dakota Kittle squared off at centre ice and traded blows for what felt like five minutes.
As the two tumbled to the ice, Vlanich got in a few extra shots, which may have cost him. He was awarded a five minute major, a game misconduct, two minutes for being the agressor and a match penalty.
“It’s been coming a long time. We’ve been going at it for a few games and it finally happened,” said Vlanich about the fight. It’s been coming for awhile.”
This is the first season that Vlanich and Kittle have had bad blood between them.
“Usually there’s a couple guys on each team coming after me and finally it spilled over and I went at him.”
He said he isn’t sure if a suspension will come after the match penalty.
“We’ll wait and see I guess.”
The ruckus gave Grand Forks a seven minute powerplay which allowed the visitors to narrow the gap to 6-4, but that’s all the offence they could muster.
The injury and the pugilism overshadowed a solid offensive game by the Leafs, especially for Travis Wellman who scored a hat trick and added one assist.
Carson Willans added a pair of goals and Vlanich has the other goal.
Wellman said the squad was burying their chances. In fact at one point the Leafs had four goals on six shots.
“Definitely the bounces were going my way. I had a couple of lucky ones there and the guys were feeding me pucks so I was lucky to get the hat trick quick,” said Wellman.
He knew the game against the border bruins would be a tough one.
“Grand Forks isn’t in a playoff spot so they are playing for their dignity. We knew they would come out strong, so we just had to play our game and establish that we are a top team in this league and we aren’t going to lay down for any team.”