Sometimes a little shame goes a long way.
Take Ryan Keilty for example. The Leafs forward was a healthy scratch Friday, which may have been a mercy given how poorly Nelson played in a loss against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
But Keilty got another chance Saturday and made the most of it with a goal during the Leafs’ 4-0 shutout against the Spokane Braves.
“I just took it as a sign that coach wanted to see more out of me and I let that fuel my game tonight,” he said.
Keilty wasn’t alone in playing for pride. As bad as the Leafs looked against Beaver Valley, they were dominant one night later. Ryan Cooper had two goals and Justin Podgorenko also scored for Nelson (7-2-1), while Josh Williams had to make just 14 saves.
Cooper, the Leafs’ leading scorer, said they needed a better effort even against the bottom-feeding Braves.
“It wasn’t the strongest team but we had a good bounce back,” he said. “What [head coach Mario DiBella] said before the game motivated us to do a better job.”
Ben Waslaski did what he could in net for the Braves (3-5-3) with 40 saves.
If the Leafs were hoping for a quick start after Friday’s sluggish effort, they got it from Cooper. He picked off an errant pass by the Braves defence and had an easy walk in against Waslaski just 1:05 for a 1-0 lead.
Yet another goal came 1:20 later for the Leafs. Brent Headon slipped a pass to Podgorenko, who was behind the Braves blueliners and had an easy look at Waslaski for yet another goal. That rattled the visitors, who needed a timeout to settle down.
“They came to play,” said DiBella. “There was times when I thought they were brilliant and times when I thought might have looked to too much individual play rather than team play. But we got the ship corrected and I was pleased with that.”
The game got worse for Spokane. Braves star Paxton Malone was knocked out of the game on an open-ice hit by Nelson defenceman Michael LeNoury that the refs decreed was clean. He had to be helped off the ice by two of his teammates.
Waslaski sometimes appeared to be the only Spokane player on the ice in the second period. He was peppered with shots and didn’t break as the Leafs dominated play, winning the shot battle 17-3 without a goal to show for it.
That changed after the second intermission thanks to a terrific individual effort by Keilty. He dangled the puck into the zone and fired a knucklepuck that spun past Waslaski for a 3-0 lead.
“I had the puck going across the blueline and I was surprised it stuck with me,” said Keilty. “I just found it on my stick and fired it at the net and somehow it went in. I’m just happy that I can contribute and get the win.”
DiBella said he was happy with how Keilty played one night after spending a game in the stands.
“I thought Keilty had some deficiencies in his game and that’s why he didn’t play. He responded very well to the comments that the coaching staff gave to him and I thought he gave us a great game today.”
Nelson struck again on its 40th shot of the game. Cooper skated into the slot and fired top corner over Waslaski’s glove hand for his second of the game with 5:27 left in regulation.
Leaflets: Nelson goes on the road for the next five games. They return to home ice Oct. 27 against Golden. Just two of the Leafs’ next 15 games are in Nelson.