The intense rivalry between the Beaver Valley Nitehawks and Nelson Leafs continued unabated in Game 3 of the Neil Murdoch Division final on Tuesday, with the Hawks taking a 2-1 series lead.
The physicality ramped up a notch as a more disciplined Nitehawks team skated to a 5-2 victory over the number-1 seeded Leafs.
“I thought we came out almost nervous looking, the first 10-12 minutes was not very good,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Bill Birks. “But then we got a couple of, I wouldn’t call them soft goals, but you throw the puck on the net and they went in for us.”
Nelson has pulled their goalie in two of the three games, while the Hawks defence and goaltending has been key in their two wins. So it was only fitting that Nitehawks defenceman Nathan Ingram’s game winning goal chased Nelson goalie Hunter Young from the crease. The 17-year-old Ingram fired a point shot through traffic that gave B.V. a 3-1 lead at 14:45 of the second period.
“It was on the power play, and we had a switch play,” said Ingram. “Quaid (Anderson) dropped the puck, and I took the shot and it went in. I just took the shot and was hoping for a tip.”
The Leafs came out of the gate determined and dominated early with Kaleb Comishin finishing a 2-on-1 with a snipe to the top corner just over three minutes into the first period.
B.V. tied it at 1-1 when a fortunate bounce off the backboards went to Morgan Peace behind the goal line and he quickly centered to Jared Stocks in front, who slipped it by Young with 4:44 remaining in the opening frame.
Just over two minutes later, Nitehawks forward Nolan Corrado found the puck in a mad scramble in front of the Leafs net and lifted it past Young for a 2-1 B.V. lead.
The Nitehawks came on in the second period, as the physical pace increased. After Ingram made it 3-1, Michael Hagen hit Paul Leroux in the top of the slot and the Calgary native snapped a shot top corner on Leafs back up Caiden Kreitz.
The Leafs pushed back late in the second period, with an intense forecheck that paid off when Comishin forced a turnover deep in the Hawks zone, and lifted a quick shot over the blocker of Noah Decottignies to cut the lead to 4-2 with 2:42 to play. But that was as close as the Leafs would get, as Beaver Valley added an insurance marker on a slick 2-on-1 pass from Ryan Crisalli to Hagen to make it 5-2 with 5:19 remaining.
“The third one was a big one, Nate on the power play was a big goal for us,” said Birks. “Then I thought we turned the game around, in the second we really dominated, and then we kind of played rope-a-dope for the third really. They were running around trying to take some liberties.”
Trailing 5-2, the Leafs frustration began to show. Keenan Crossman took out a Hawks player away from the play and was given two minutes and a game misconduct for a hit-to-the head with 5:10 remaining. Every play finished in a scrum and the Leafs’ Easton Jolie received a 10-minute unsportsmanlike misconduct in the final seconds.
Beaver Valley goalie Decottignies was stellar once again stopping 21 shots on the night, while the Hawks fired 26 at the Nelson goal. The Hawks went 1-for-5 on the power play, the Leafs 0-for-2.
“Our defence is really starting to play good hockey, as a group, as a five-man group,” said Birks. “We just have to keep going. It’s exactly like Game 1 when we beat them 5-2, and we came back a little cocky and thinking we’d beat them again, but they came back with a push and played really well in Game 2. Every night we have to come back with a 0-0 mentality. It’s Game 1 of the series and a must win.”
Game 5 of the Neil Murdoch Division final goes in Nelson on Friday at 7 p.m.