Mario DiBella wasn’t in the mood for excuses, and the Nelson Leafs played like a team that had none.
One night after a poor outing in Fernie led to Nelson’s first loss since Dec. 15, the Leafs head coach wasn’t mincing words.
“We need to understand that talent doesn’t win games, people do …,” said DiBella. “We played five minutes out of 60 and were fortunate enough to take a lead into the third period, but Fernie overpowered us with their speed and their physical play. For us to go on the journey we expect to, we have to be better every night.”
DiBella’s post-game analysis heard in a vacuum might not give the impression the Leafs did in fact win their Sunday matinee, 4-1 against the Golden Rockets. But the loss the night before weighed on the players.
Caiden Kreitz, who gave up four goals against the Ghostriders but rebounded with a 23-save performance against the Rockets, agreed the expectations have to be higher for a team with championship aspirations.
“I think it was definitely a good thing we lost, as weird as that sounds. It was kind of like a wake-up, like hey, we need to bring it every single night and get ready for playoffs.”
Keenan Crossman, Shawn Campbell, Tyler Nypower and Reid Wilson also each scored for the Leafs (28-10-2).
Bryce Trimmer had the lone goal for the Rockets (20-19-4), while Jacob Bennett made 30 saves.
Nelson dominated possession to start the game as Golden relied on quick counter attacks to generate offence. Both strategies were productive — the period ended 14-11 shots in Nelson’s favour — but neither resulted in a goal through the first 20 minutes.
The most interesting part of the first period was the Leafs playing big defenceman Michael LeNoury on Bennett’s doorstep during a power play. The move was effective — no Rocket was able to knock LeNoury out of position — and it got Nypower’s endorsement.
“If there’s a battle he’s going to win it and he’s going to get the puck out to me, so it’s nice,” he said.
Nelson got on the scoreboard five minutes into the second period. The Leafs were on the power play when Crossman deflected a shot by Kalem Hanlon for the opening goal.
Campbell added his own about two minutes later with a slick wrist shot that beat Bennett top corner glove side.
The Rockets tested Kreitz with several good opportunities but the Leafs had time to add one more 1:17 before the intermission. Cole Wyatt had Nypower with him for a 2-on-1 when he fired a shot that bounced off Bennett to his teammate, who was there for the rebound and a 3-0 lead.
“Everyone was on deck tonight, everyone was playing the bod, everyone was playing with more intensity,” said Nypower.
Emery Neilson and Wilson teamed up to put a dagger in the Rockets at 7:08 of the third. Neilson spun and whipped a low shot through a crowd that Wilson tipped past Bennett.
The Rockets were playing shorthanded two minutes later when Trimmer collected the puck on his own at centre ice and finished off the breakaway with a goal on Kreitz.
That goal aside, Kreitz still left the rink Sunday feeling better about his play.
“Tonight was for sure better. It’s my goal to keep it to two goals or less, in a league like this I hold myself to a high standard, so obviously when I let in four it’s not the best result for me or the team. Coming into tonight against Golden I just saw it as an opportunity to bounce back.”
Leaflets: DiBella said after the game F Logan Wullum is out for the remainder of the season with an upper-body injury. Nypower said the loss of Wullum, one of the Leafs’ assistant captains and most reliable energy players, will leave a hole in the locker-room. “He’s always so positive. He had a letter for a reason. He’s a big influence and he always works 100 per cent when he’s on the ice, which is a big key thing for a leader.” … Sunday’s contest was the annual Nelson Friends of the Family game. Home Hardware presented a cheque of $3,000 to the non-profit organization prior to puck drop. … The Leafs next visit Golden on Friday for a rematch.