Logan Wullum may as well have painted a target on his jersey.
The Nelson Leafs forward pestered, hounded, harassed and drove the Grand Forks Border Bruins crazy on Saturday night. In a game where penalties seemed to come every other minute, Wullum was often at the centre of the storm.
“I just try to get under their skin and hope they take penalties on me,” said Wullum. “That’s my job I think.”
He did his job to perfection. He scored once, took three penalties himself and tricked the visitors into many more as Nelson beat Grand Forks 4-1.
Ryan Cooper scored twice and Ryan Piva also added a single for the Leafs (27-7-3), with Caiden Kreitz making 20 saves.
Reese Tambellini scored for the Border Bruins (12-24-3), while Quinn Yeager stopped 32 shots.
Wullum’s inspiration is NHL veteran Jarome Iginla, and most games he plays just like the two-way power forward. But on this night, Wullum showed his appreciation for professional pests like Brad Marchand.
During a second-period line brawl, Grand Forks defenceman Rylan Smaha-Muir was enraged when Wullum declined to fight him at centre ice. Later in the third, Yoan Rodrigue was tossed for pinning Wullum and appearing to cross-check his head to the ice.
“They decided for whatever reason they were going to jump on his frame and they were on him the entire night,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. “They were trying to goad him into fighting, they were trying to hurt him at times, and he just sucked it up and fought through like the warrior that he is.”
Nelson stumbled out the gate with three penalties, two of which put them on a 5-on-3 penalty kill. That would have been crippling against better teams, but the Border Bruins had difficulty setting up and rarely challenged Kreitz.
The Leafs looked to have the opening goal at 6:14 of the first when Piva batted the puck into the net. His stick was a touch too high though and the goal was quickly waved off.
That was as close as either team came to scoring in the first 20 minutes.
Four minutes after intermission a bizarre goal led to a line brawl.
Piva’s first shot in the slot on Yeager rebounded off the side of the net right back to his stick, and he scored on the second. The Border Bruins however appeared to take issue with Leafs defenceman Brendan Makay celebrating from on top of their goaltender when the goal was scored.
That led to several fights developing at once shortly after the puck drop, and ended up packing the penalty boxes with four players apiece serving time.
For all his work filling the penalty box, Wullum was apologetic for the penalties issued to the Leafs.
“When we take penalties like that it just loses all our momentum,” he said. “That’s something we’re working on too as a team, not taking those penalties. If we do that we’re going to come out way more on top, to be honest.”
Jack Karran had a golden chance to give Nelson a 2-0 lead about three minutes into the third period. He broke out of the penalty box just in time for a pass and had plenty of time to deke Yeager on a breakaway. It turned out to be too much time, as Karran’s loose shot went wide.
It was Cooper who ended up finding that two-goal advantage. With Nelson on the power play Cooper whipped a wrist shot that was blocked, but the puck returned to Cooper for another shot that went in.
The Border Bruins broke Kreitz’s shut-out bid with eight minutes remaining. Nelson’s Jackson Zimmermann was serving a double-minor when Grand Forks forward Tambellini flashed some speed and beat Kreitz glove-side to cut the lead to one.
“I was a little disappointed with the penalties we took in the third period,” said DiBella. “There were three from three different players that in my view were selfish and could have cost us the game.”
Grand Forks pulled Yeager with a minute left and the move nearly paid off. But puck luck was on Nelson’s side. During one sequence Kreitz said he was screened and lost track of the puck.
“Lucky me, it was bouncing at my feet and a teammate came and cleared it out,” he said.
Kreitz then dropped down to the ice, which was a good decision because it prevented an ensuing wraparound. When he returned to the bench for a timeout, he told teammate Josh Williams he had no idea where the puck was.
Empty-net goals by Cooper and Wullum then put the game away to give the Leafs a chippy victory.
Leaflets: Leafs D Michael LeNoury served the first of a three-game suspension for accumulated head contact minors. … Nelson next heads to Fruitvale on Sunday to resume a previous game that was cut short in December by an electrical outage. The Leafs aren’t back on home ice until Feb. 2 against the Columbia Valley Rockies.