Jackson Zimmermann knew he deserved a penalty shot. He just wasn’t sure he was going to get it.
The Nelson Leafs forward was on a breakaway when he was slashed, but it was only when a pile of players landed in the opposing goaltender’s crease that a late whistle was blown.
Zimmermann probably wasn’t the only one on the ice thinking the officials missed a call.
“At first I turned to yell at (referee Andrew) Falcone because I was a little mad he got me in the hands when I went to shoot,” said Zimmermann, who then looked to see Falcone signalling for the penalty.
That penalty shot ended up being crucial for Nelson.
Zimmermann’s top corner snipe in the second period beat the goaltender and was the game-winning goal as the Leafs held on to win 3-2 against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks at home Saturday.
“Can’t complain about it,” shrugged Zimmermann.
Ryan Piva and Easton Jolie also scored for the Leafs (4-0-0), while Caiden Kreitz stopped 21 shots to keep Nelson unbeaten.
Nathan Ingram and Ryan Crisalli replied for the Nitehawks (1-2-0), with Noah Decottignies making 24 saves.
The Leafs were lucky to skate away with a win despite spending much of the 60 minutes with players in the box.
Nelson started the game in penalty trouble because of a warmup violation by Scott Lancaster. That trouble continued as the Leafs found themselves defending a 5-on-3 only five minutes into the period.
But a strong penalty kill turned into an unexpected boon for Nelson when the puck came to Jolie just as he was coming out of the box. He touched the puck back to a streaking Piva, who skated in on a breakaway for the short-handed goal on the Leafs’ second shot of the game.
Piva has been on fire for Nelson to start the season with six goals in three games following the hat trick he scored Friday against Grand Forks.
The Trail native is entering his third season with the Leafs. Last year he made a big improvement on his rookie year and looks to be doing the same once again.
“I think part of it is confidence,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. “He’s grown into his body, he’s a great listener, he asks what he can do better all the time and takes those suggestions out on the ice and puts them to good use. He’s a fine young man and we’re lucky to have him. If he continues at this pace I think someone from the BC Hockey League will be knocking on his door.”
Jolie added to the lead soon after. He took a pass from Lancaster and took a sharp-angle backhand that surprised Decottignies for the 2-0 advantage.
The 18-year-old Cranbrook native described the goal as a fluke. Jolie had a three-game stint with Fernie last season but spent most of the year playing academy hockey in Penticton. He was all smiles after the game.
“I haven’t been on a winning team for a long time, so this is pretty fun.”
Sustained pressure got the Nitehawks back into the game in the second period.
They cut the lead to one just two minutes after the puck drop when Ingram snapped a shot from the left faceoff circle that beat Kreitz.
Crisalli tied the game five minutes later. Both teams were playing 4-on-4 when Crisalli snapped a shot that flew over Kreitz’s shoulder for the goal.
“I think we got away in the second period,” said Jolie. “I think our first and third were strong, but I think we just got a little out of focus and off task about what we were supposed to do. Mental lapse in the second but we bounced back hard in the third.”
After Zimmermann’s penalty restored Nelson’s lead, the visitors nearly tied the game once again on a breakaway of their own. Simon Nemethy sped in alone and fired a shot that Kreitz deftly stretched out his left pad to stop.
Beaver Valley was gifted its second 5-on-3 of the game nine minutes into the third period, but Nelson stood tall and survived the onslaught, which included Leafs defenceman Kalem Hanlon going to the ice to block a slapshot from close range.
A Zimmermann tripping penalty gave the Nitehawks the man advantage yet again with five minutes left in regulation. Piva killed time with a terrific forecheck and the Leafs once again held on.
There was yet one more penalty for Nelson to kill off. Zimmermann took exception to a late hit on teammate Logan Wullum by Angus Amadio and was tossed for the retaliation.
“I thought he took a little liberty on (Wullum) when his back was turned,” said Zimmermann. “He didn’t want to answer up to it when I called him out on it so I took liberty into my own hands.”
But Nelson didn’t need to survive the full two minutes before the buzzer mercifully ended the game in the Leafs’ favour and kept their perfect record intact.
Leaflets: F Keenan Crossman (upper body) and F Shawn Campbell (lower body) were out for the Leafs. … Nelson signed F Joshua Stypka and G C.J. Wedenig this week to join its still-developing roster. .. Nelson next hosts the Summerland Steam on Sept. 21.