The Nelson Junior Leafs took away four of a possible six points this past weekend at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
“I was really pleased with our effort in all three games,” said Leafs coach Frank Maida. “In the first game we just had a couple mistakes and a good team will jump on those mistakes. That was key in the outcome of that game.”
The Leafs’ opening game of the weekend was against the Fernie Ghostriders.
Prone to slow starts so far this Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season, the locals actually responded first on this night when Jacob Boyczuk scored on the powerplay three minutes into the game.
Tyler Gonzales got that one back seven minutes later when he beat Nelson starter Cody Boeckman. With four minutes left in the opening 20, Matthew Naka sent the Leafs into the dressing room with a 2-1 lead.
Then the Leafs got a little sloppy and made a few turnovers that lead to a four-goal period by the Ghostriders. Though Leafs rookie Bryce Nielsen managed one for Nelson, the outcome after two periods was 5-2 for the visitors.
The Leafs outshot Fernie 10-7 in the final period — and 34-27 overall — but could not beat Ghostriders goalie Chris Solecki.
Saturday night the Spokane Braves pulled into Nelson for an important Neil Murdoch Division match-up.
The Braves opened the scoring four minutes into the game when Timothy Schmidt beat Brett Soles. Midway through the period, Nelson Minor Hockey grad Matt MacDonald evened the score.
Rebounding from a terrible middle stanza the night before, the Leafs came out flying in the second period. They fired 25 shots on the Spokane net and produced three goals by JJ Beitel, Carson Willians and Boyczuk.
Though the teams played an even third period with three goals each — two by Leafs captain Colton Schell and one by Nielsen — it was Nelson who escaped with the 7-4 victory.
The Leafs outshot the Braves 55-17 in the game.
“We are working very, very hard and when you do that you get shots,” said Maida. “We just need to start bearing down on our chances and more goals will start to come.”
The coach said mopping up loose pucks in front of the opposing net is where the team needs to improve.
“You have to bear down on rebounds and we need to pounce on them,” said Maida. “You have to get to the danger zones and be willing to do what you have to in order to get those rebounds.”
Sunday afternoon’s game against the Chase Heat was a Thanksgiving feast of goals for the Leafs.
Fifty-two seconds into the game, defenceman Seth Schmidt opened the scoring and started a five-goal first period outburst. Rookie Colton McCarthy increased the lead seven minutes in and Aaron Dunlap made it 3-0 a minute later. Recent returnee Matti Jmaeff then made the score 4-0 with two minutes remaining and Schmidt added his second of the game at the 43-second mark.
The Leafs took their foot off the gas a bit in the second period, but still managed two goals, McCarthy’s second of the game and Nielsen’s third of the weekend.
The final period saw a little more spark from the Heat, but with seven minutes left in the game a routine hit by Nelson forward Dustin Reimer saw Chase forward Drew Wilde go down hard. For the second weekend in a row, an ambulance was called to the NDCC and the visiting player was taken to hospital. With both teams upset about the incident, the game was called with the Leafs leading 7-0.
“When that kind of thing happens, the game of hockey become secondary,” said Heat coach Brad Fox.
By Tuesday morning, Wilde was recovering from a suspected concussion and expected to visit the team’s doctor for further assessment. Fox said the Nelson organization and the staff at the Kootenay Lake Hospital did a great job in caring for the young player.
The Leafs next action is this coming weekend when they face the Castlegar Rebels in a home-and-home. The Rebels visit the NDCC Friday night and then the scene switches to Castlegar for Saturday.