As Game 1 dragged into double overtime, Ryan Piva started having flashbacks.
One year ago, the Nelson Leafs and Castlegar Rebels played a Game 1 that went four overtimes and was the second longest game in KIJHL history.
“I was like, oh god, here it comes again,” said Piva.
Two more overtimes and it would have been the same story Tuesday if Piva hadn’t scored the game winner, which gave the Leafs a 1-0 victory in a very tense, tightly contested opener to the Neil Murdoch Division final.
Ryan Cooper had fired a shot at Curt Doyle that rebounded off the Rebels goaltender and went right to Piva, who had all the space he needed to score the winner 9:57 into the period.
Leafs defenceman Michael LeNoury described the game as a whirlwind, and said he was relieved when it finally ended.
“I could tell the pace was starting to slow down big time,” said LeNoury. “I was starting to feel it, I won’t lie.”
There was very little between both teams, which both benefitted from sterling goaltending. Nelson’s Josh Williams finished with 35 saves, while Doyle was also strong with 37 stops of his own.
Game 2 is Wednesday at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
Both teams defensive corps flexed to the start the game. The Rebels even had two power plays in the first 10 minutes, but at the halfway point of the first period there had been just two shots on Williams and none on Doyle.
Nelson’s best chance came deep in the first when Nicholas Wihak was able to string together a couple dekes on Doyle to no avail.
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said he thought his players did well to overcome a slow start to the game.
“I like how we adjusted to the things we didn’t start out doing well and understood what it was that was being asked of us, and I thought responded very well to those,” he said.
The neutral zone deadlock continued all the way to intermission, with just seven shots between both teas on the scoreboard.
Little changed in the second period as the shots increased with no goals to show for it.
“It was pretty hard. They were playing a pretty good trap through the neutral zone,” said Piva. “I thought once we started chipping pucks into their zone and pressured hard, we had more time and more space opened up. But they definitely played really good defence. It was a challenge.”
Tanner Costa took down Brent Headon with two minutes left in the second. Costa then stayed atop Headon, feeding him shots, which put him in the box for 10 minutes along with Evan Della Paolera on a slashing penalty.
That gifted Nelson a 5-on-3. Sawyer Hunt rang a shot off the crossbar and the Leafs came no closer as the Rebels did a tremendous job on the penalty kill. Moments after a hard Vince Bitonti shot deflected off Williams’ mask, and that sent both teams back to intermission.
Still more hockey and no goals as the game moved into the third period. Williams and Doyle asserted themselves with several big stops each to stymie both teams’ offences.
Williams had the biggest save of the game with three minutes left in regulation. Shawn Campbell found space and went one-on-one with the Leafs netminder, who showed plenty of patience to wait out the Rebels forward and make a pad save.
That was the closest either side came to a goal, and the contest rolled into overtime.
Wihak then nearly had the game winner just a minute and a half into overtime. Piva circled the Rebels’ net and Wihak took a shot off a rebound that Doyle got a piece of in close to keep the game clock ticking.
“What a rush,” quipped LeNoury.
Leaflets: Two referees and two linesmen officiated the game as opposed to the usual one ref and two linemen. The extra official made a difference. No penalties were called after the second period, which meant the game finished just prior to 10 p.m. despite the extra overtime. … Nelson had a healthy line-up to start the series. … Leafs assistant coach Sean Dooley returned to the bench after serving a six-game suspension. … Game 3 in Friday has an unusual start time of 4 p.m. in Castlegar.