It wasn’t easy, but the Nelson Leafs won their fifth game in a row thanks to a 4-3, come from behind, overtime victory over the Spokane Braves on Saturday night at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
Linden Horswill played the hero, popping in the game winner in the opening minute of overtime, while the Leafs were on a powerplay.
“The boys battled tonight,” said Leafs head coach Frank Maida.
“We had a short bench and I thought we battled and had a great team comeback.”
Early in the game the play was even between the two KIJHL rivals.
Nelson opened the scoring in the first, thanks to a goal from Aaron Dunlap at the midway point of the period.
However, Spokane’s Tyler Peltram tied it up less than two minutes later.
Nelson carried the play for most of the first period and the pressure paid off when Jamie Vlanich beat Braves’ netminder Jon Manlow to give the home squd a 2-1 lead after one.
The second period was a different story as Spokane carried much of the play in the middle frame. Adam Shaner tied it for the Braves in the second.
It was anybody’s game entering the third and Spokane came out flying. Sean Collins came streaking in on Leafs netminder Brad Rebagliati and backhanded the puck into the top corner to give the visiting squad its first lead of the game.
It looked liked that might be the final as the Leafs could not seem to get the puck into the Braves’ net.
Coach Maida said he told his players to “just keep going. Keep sticking to the game plan. Keep chipping away and things will happen.”
The advice worked.
As Nelson continued to put on the pressure, relative newcomer Adam Hodge found the puck during a scamble in front of the Spokane net and tied the contest 3-3 with just over five minutes to play.
“He’s (Hodge) come in and played very well for us. He’s been a real good pick up,” said Maida.
That goal forced overtime, allowing Horswill to net the game winner.
“We moved the puck very well tonight, I thought. And I felt good about the guys we had out there (in overtime) and it was a great team victory tonight and the powerplay came through.”
The win was the fifth straight for the Leafs who are currently in first place in their division and the league with 64 points, despite having recently lost several players to injuries.
“We’re focused and we’re sticking to our game plan. Other guys are stepping up for us,” said Maida.
The previous night, Nelson beat the Castlegar Rebels 5-2 in Castlegar.
The Leafs will now head back on the road for one game against the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Friday, January 17. The squad’s next home game is on Sunday, January 19 against the same Spokane Braves.
The puck drops at 2:30 p.m. at the NDCC.