There’s no need for Liam Noble to be haunted by his penalty shot, even if he’s a little annoyed by it.
The Nelson Leafs forward was in the spotlight in third period after a Beaver Valley player used his glove to cover the puck in his goaltender’s crease.
Noble opted to skate in slow and try to deke Nitehawks netminder Kevin Engman, who calmly used his stick to end Noble’s moment.
Noble already had one goal, and the Leafs scored another shortly after the missed penalty shot, but he hadn’t quite moved on after the game.
“I really wanted to score that one. It’s always nice to have two,” he said. “I just had my head down, I knew what I was doing, and he just threw the poke check at me unexpected.”
The shot didn’t matter in the end. Noble was one of five Leafs to score as they beat the Nitehawks 5-3 on Friday in Game 1 of the Neil Murdoch Division final.
Bennett Anklewich, Johnny Carmichael, Simon Nemethy and Rhett Hamilton also scored for the Leafs, with Tenzin Mint stopping 32 shots.
Nathan Dominici, Hunter Burgeson and Jesse Ihas replied for the Nitehawks, while Kevin Engman made 32 saves.
Nelson was slightly fresher than the Nitehawks after taking a day off following their Game 7 win over Castlegar on Wednesday.
Beaver Valley, however, looked sluggish to start the game one night after they advanced past the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
Despite the win, Noble thought the Leafs could have been better.
“I thought we were good. We kind of played down to their energy level, which we’ve got to clean up. But they’ve got to come back here tomorrow and it’s going to be even harder [for them].”
Game 2 is Saturday in Nelson, followed by Games 3 and 4 in Fruitvale on Monday and Tuesday.
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella agreed with Noble’s assessment that his team has improvements to make despite strong special teams play.
“I think we need to be overall better in the defensive zone,” said DiBella. “We were great from the blueline to the offensive zone. I didn’t think 5-on-5 we were that strong in our own zone.”
The Leafs took the lead on a goal by Noble. He was in the right spot to collect a rebound in front of Engman, which he backhanded in for a 1-0 lead 10 minutes into the game.
The Nitehawks had a perfect opportunity to tie the game after using some neutral zone speed to generate a 2-on-1. But Dominici was denied after Mint slid post to post to make a save off the logo that had the crowd buzzing.
Nelson survived a period of Nitehawks possession to take a 2-0 lead on a counter attack. A rush up the ice led to the puck bouncing back to Tyson Lautard on the blueline. His slapshot rebounded off Engman to Anklewich, who turned and fired a shot in prior to the first intermission.
Both teams traded quick goals in the second.
Carmichael whipped a wrist shot past Engman to give Nelson a temporary three-goal lead, but just over a minute later Dominici backhanded a rebound to put the Nitehawks on the scoreboard.
Three minutes later a power play put the Leafs up 4-1. Hamilton’s slick cross-ice pass found the tape of Nemethy’s stick for a wide-open shot.
Beaver Valley didn’t look like a team down by three. With just over a minute left in the period, Nitehawks forward Hayden Stocks carried the puck past a Nelson defender to create some space, then passed to Burgeson for a shot that beat Mint.
The Nitehawks pressed in the third, and looked like they might score during a power play midway through the period if it weren’t for some heads-up saves by Mint.
Nelson got its own power-play chance, including one that turned into a minute-long 5-on-3 and featured Noble’s penalty shot.
Shortly after, Anklewich found Hamilton with a pass across Engman’s doorstep, and the Leafs had a 5-2 lead to remove all doubt about the result.
The Nitehawks managed one more goal before the buzzer that fans protested. Mint’s goal was slightly dislodged when Ihas’ shot lofted in, but the official was unmoved by loud complaints.
Game 1 featured just three penalties through the first two periods, but the Leafs and Nitehawks combined for a total of 13 in the third as players began to tire and lost their composure.
Noble thinks the series will only get more rough once both sides have had time to rest.
“There were words flying out there, so we’re ready for it. It’s going to be physical the whole series.”
Leaflets: The Leafs were presented with a number of regular season KIJHL division awards prior to the game. Bryce Sookro was named the Neil Murdoch Division’s top defenceman and rookie of the year. Dylan Marshall took goaltender of the year honours, Tyson Lautard was named most sportsmanlike and Mario DiBella was the division’s coach of the year. The team was also presented the division banner for finishing the regular season in first place.