It looked like it was going to be an easy win for the Nelson Leafs as they battled the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Tuesday night.
The local squad scored three times in the first eight minutes of the first period to give them a comfortable 3-0 lead. But the Border Bruins were not ready to lie down.
The visitors battled back and pressed the Leafs for the rest of the game.
In the end, Nelson hung on to win the game 3-2 and take over first place in the Neil Murdoch Division of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
Patrick Croome opened the scoring for Nelson two minutes into the game. Three minutes later, Jay Sidhu popped the puck into the net to increase the lead to two.
At the eight minute mark, Rayce Miller scored again and it looked like a blowout in the making.
But before the period ended, Grand Forks Mitchell Pearson narrowed the lead to 3-1.
In the second period, the Bruins Graham Watkins scored to make it a one goal game.
Leafs goaltender Brett Soles shut the door the rest of the way to give Nelson the win.
The netminder said the early going was challenging.
“It was tough, the first eight minutes. I don’t think I had a shot,” said Soles.
“You just have to keep your mind in it because later on in the period they got a couple of good chances.”
Soles said it was great to jump out to a 3-0 lead, but then things changed on the ice.
“We kind of fell away from our game plan a little bit. We got some powerplays and we weren’t working our system. We were trying to be too fancy and that kind of stopped our momentum.”
In the third, both squads played solid defence as the Leafs continued to cling to the one goal lead. Then, with three minutes to play, Grand Forks went on the powerplay.
“I just knew this was it. All game they were not taking a lot of shots. I knew I had to stand on my head here and I knew that boys would help me out too,” said Soles.
The goaltender and the defence came through and killed the penalty, but the game wasn’t over yet.
With 13 seconds left and the goaltender pulled, the puck ended up in front of the Leafs net to a wide open Bruins player.
“They passed that one in front and nobody picked him up, I didn’t even pick him up. He fanned on that one which was nice and we got the win.”
Leafs head coach David McLellan said his squad lost focus after the first three goals.
“Typical of a junior hockey team, they got ahead of themselves. Probably thinking it was point night and they were going to rout a team and we made mistakes,” said McLellan.
In the third. Nelson had plenty of chances to increase their lead, but the goal scoring had dried up.
“Certainly we are struggling to score offensively. We had some great opportunities and couldn’t put the puck in the net,” he said.
McLellan said, after five regular season games, they are still looking for a few more pieces.
“We certainly would love to add a natural goal scorer. We sense that if that could come our way it would really help us to get a little more offensive punch. We tend to play a pretty solid defensive game overall. That part I’m pretty happy with. I think we need to find a way to create more offence at critical times. We just lack a bit of finesse.
Nelson’s next home game takes place Friday, September 26 at 7 p.m. When the Kimberley Dynamiters come to the NDCC. Puck drops at 7 p.m.