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Nelson Leafs blown out during police fundraiser game

The Leafs lost 8-1 to the Columbia Valley Rockies
Nelson forward Lucas Byrne skates in a chase for the puck against the Columbia Valley Rockies on Saturday. Photo: Tyler Harper

Hockey was a sideshow to something far more important Saturday night.

The Nelson Leafs’ game against the Columbia Valley Rockies hosted a fundraiser for the families of Nelson police officers Det. Wade Tittemore and Const. Mathieu Nolet, who died on Jan. 9 in an avalanche.

A puck-drop ceremony included family members of both officers, and representatives from the Nelson Police Department and Calgary Police Service where both Tittemore and Nolet previously served.

Nelson Minor Hockey and Save-On-Foods each spent the game raising money in the concourse, Finley’s Bar and Grill contributed with a pre-game burger and beverage event, and even the Rockies chipped in with a $500 donation.

Leafs head coach Briar McNaney said he hoped the event brought a little comfort to the families. Tittemore’s sons visited with the players prior to the game, then joined the starting lineup on the ice.

“That is the most important part is those families have a little bit of help for the night,” said McNaney. “I wish we could have done better for them, but sometimes that’s not in the cards.”

It sure wasn’t for the Leafs.

The Rockies hammered Nelson, scoring five goals in the third period en route to an 8-1 blowout win.

Kayde Kinaschuk and Reed Sparrow each scored twice for the Rockies (29-7-3), with Keenan Ingram, Lucas de la Salle, Jake Measel and Jordan Normand adding singles. Goaltender Brett Sweet meanwhile stopped just 13 shots.

Frederick Larochelle gave up seven goals on 30 shots for the Leafs (20-15-5). Jasper Tait came on in relief late in the third period and allowed one goal, and Kieran Christianson also scored.

One night earlier the Leafs earned a 6-5 win at home against the Golden Rockets, but McNaney said he didn’t think there was any hangover in their poor effort against Columbia Valley.

“I think we got outworked. I think their goaltending played pretty well, their power play was hot. It was just an off night.”

Columbia Valley took advantage of some Leafs’ disorganization to open the scoring within the first three minutes of the game. Ingram was waiting at the face-off circle and zipped a wrist shot in that beat Larochelle on the second shot of the contest.

The Rockies went up 2-0 at 5:10. The visitors were on a power play when Kinaschuk took a pass and was uncontested against Larochelle who was playing at the top of his crease. That proved costly as Larochelle saved Kinaschuk’s first shot but was poorly positioned to handle the rebound, which Kinaschuk calmly swept around the goalie’s pad.

It was a small mercy the period ended without more goals against Nelson, which was outshot 9-1 during the first 20 minutes.

“I think we were just too passive in the D-zone,” said Leafs captain Bennett Anklewich. “They just walked around us and we didn’t do anything about it. So if we were more aggressive maybe there could have been a different result.”

A lack of offence continued to plague the Leafs into the second period. The team struggled to maintain possession and its ventures into the offensive zone were usually brief. Nelson’s only real look at a goal came late in the period when Lucas Byrne had a breakaway, but that came to nothing.

The Rockies meanwhile remained composed and looked like a team ready for the post-season as Kinaschuk added his second of the night with a wrist shot at 9:51.

Representatives with the Nelson Leafs, Nelson Police Department, Calgary Police Services and family members related to Det. Wade Tittemore and Const. Mathieu Nolet address the crowd prior to Saturday’s Nelson Leafs game. Photo: Tyler Harper
Representatives with the Nelson Leafs, Nelson Police Department, Calgary Police Services and family members related to Det. Wade Tittemore and Const. Mathieu Nolet address the crowd prior to Saturday’s Nelson Leafs game. Photo: Tyler Harper

There would be no change to the narrative in the third period.

A turnover led to Rockies captain Anthony Domina carrying the puck into the Leafs’ zone and shooting. Larochelle made the first save, Domina collected and shot again only for De La Salle to tip the puck in for a 4-0 lead.

It was the Rockies again less than two minutes later. Defenceman Riley Cormier fed a nice little backhand pass to an undefended Sparrow for a wide-open goal.

But that wasn’t the end of Nelson’s misery.

Measel’s heavy slap shot ripped by Larochelle, then a couple minutes later Normand slipped a wrist shot in for a 7-0 lead that ended Larochelle’s night.

The Leafs couldn’t even properly take credit for the goal they did score in the dying minutes of the third. A cross-ice pass from Christianson went off the outreached stick of Kinaschuk and past Sweet, ruining his shut-out bid on a goal that seemed like a good metaphor for an ugly game of hockey.

Yet the last word wouldn’t belong to Nelson. Sparrow scored with two minutes left after he was left open in front of Tait for an easy goal.

“Like our coach said in the room, good teams get humbled sometimes,” said Anklewich. “We’re just going to bounce back, have a good practice on Monday, get back on it on Tuesday against Grand Forks. It’s a must-win game so we’re going to step up.”

Leaflets: Nelson played two defenceman, Reid Vulcano and Ellis McGeough, as forwards on the fourth line. McNaney said injuries played a role in the roster changes. … The Leafs next host the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Tuesday followed by a game Feb. 4 on the road against the Castlegar Rebels.


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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