The Nelson Junior Leafs have found their early season winning ways by playing sound defence on the road.
After going winless in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s opening weekend (a tie and a loss against Castlegar), the Leafs edged Grand Forks 2-1 last Thursday and topped the Creston Valley Thunder Cats 3-1 on Saturday night.
“I feel really good about our effort in both games,” said Leafs head coach Frank Maida.
In Grand Forks on Thursday, it was the upstart Border Bruins who responded first when Justin Sutz tallied on the powerplay with just over seven minutes left in the opening period.
The score remained 1-0 until the midway point of the second. Leafs rookie Colton McCarthy scored his third goal in as many games, beating Grand Forks starter Robert Dunsmuir. With time running out in the middle stanza, McCarthy gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead when he scored at the 1:15 mark.
Leafs rookie goaltender Brett Soles then shut the door for the rest of the game and Nelson hung on for their first win of the season.
“It was a real good game… it’s not the same Grand Forks teams that we have played in the past,” Maida said of the team that won only a single game during the 2011-12 campaign. “They limited our opportunities and played a strong defensive game.”
The Leafs travelled over the Kootenay Pass on Saturday night to tangle with the Thunder Cats in a game that once again saw the Leafs fall behind to the home team.
After going scoreless in the first period, Creston’s Trevor Hanna beat Leafs starter Cody Boeckman 13 minutes into the second. Despite being outshot by the Leafs, the Thunder Cats took the 1-0 lead into the dressing room after 40 minutes.
Less than a minute into the final period, the Leafs responded quickly when Linden Horswill beat Creston starter Michael Halls.
“Once we scored early in the third, we took over the game,” said Maida.
Nine minutes into the period, McCarthy kept his scoring streak alive with his fifth of the season. Veteran Colton Schell finished the scoring with just over three minutes left on the powerplay to seal the 3-1 victory.
The Leafs outshot the Thunder 42-22.
“We are outshooting teams and if we continue to work hard, we will get bounces and score more goals,” said Maida.
The Leafs’ next action is this Friday when they travel to Fruitvale to take on the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. The Neil Murdoch Division leaders will then travel to Nelson for a Saturday night tilt at the Nelson and District Community Complex starting at 7 p.m.
With the season still in its early stages, the Leafs continue to sculpt their roster. On Monday they added Bryce Nielson, a Californian who was released from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winkler Flyers over the weekend. He is expected to be in the weekend line-up.