It couldn’t go on forever and even though it’s only mid-season, any blemish on the Nelson Junior Leafs record is a disappointment for a team that’s established a winning culture.
Embarking on their first major road trip of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season, the Leafs came away with five of six points in a weekend East Kootenay swing. Though a pretty solid outcome, the league-leading Leafs returned home feeling they deserved better in a 3-2 overtime loss to Golden on Saturday night.
“When you get five out of six on the road you are satisfied, but we were really looking for six out of six,” said Leafs head coach Frank Maida. “So I think it’s a little disappointing for the guys.”
The Leafs ran their winning streak to 11 on the road trip opener with a 4-1 win over the Kimberley Dynamiters.
With both teams coming out of the gates pressing, it wasn’t until just under four minutes left in the first period that any scoring was done. First Kimberley’s Jason Richter beat Nelson starter Brett Soles to give the home side a 1-0 lead. But 20 seconds later, the Leafs tied the score when James Sorrey notched on the powerplay.
“We got stronger as the game went on,” said Maida “We had bus-legs in the first period, but in the second period we started dominating and then played a solid third period.”
The Leafs took the lead with seven minutes left in the second period when rookie defenceman Seth Schmidt scored his fifth goal of the season.
In the third period the Leafs’ defence was solid and Soles held his ground. Nelson added two more goals — by Aaron Dunlap and Dallon Stoddart — to finish the game 4-1.
“It’s our first real road trip so the boys were excited to get on the road,” said Maida. “It took us a period to really get into hockey and our game. But that was a good way to start the road trip.”
On Saturday night the Leafs edged their way north to take on the Golden Rockets who played the locals tough at home earlier this month in game Nelson won 6-4.
The Leafs outshot the Rockets 13-9 in the first period, but the score remained scoreless after 20 minutes.
Nine minutes into the middle period, Nelson’s Bryce Nielsen gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead. Five minutes after that Brett DeFias scored on Nelson starter Cody Boeckman to tie the score.
With just over four minutes left in the second, Connor Beauchemin scored to give the Rockets the lead going into the dressing room.
The Leafs controlled the play in the third period and with just over six minutes left were rewarded when Carson Willans tied the game at two.
The overtime period was pretty close, but with a minute left in the extra frame Leafs’ defenceman JJ Bietel was sent to the penalty box for hooking. Jacob Bergeron scored on the powerplay with one second remaining in the first overtime period to hand the Leafs their first lost in almost a month.
“We were in the game the entire time, we just didn’t have puck luck and their goaltender made some big saves,” said Maida.
“It was a tough loss. I thought we maybe took them a little lightly and were not really focused. Hopefully we learned the little things from that game.”
In the final game of the road trip Sunday afternoon in Invermere, the Leafs fell behind 1-0 to the Eddie Mountain Division cellar dwelling Columbia Valley Rockies. Despite outshooting their hosts 13-8 in the opening 20 minutes, it was the Rockies who held the lead at the first intermission.
“They just came off an 11-0 loss so they were very hungry and eager to play,” said Maida. “Their goaltender faced a lot of shots and he made some very, very good saves.”
The second period was all Nelson with both the offence and goaltender Soles ensuring the advantage.
With seven minutes gone in the period, Greg Nickel tied the score on the powerplay.
One minute later Stoddart gave the Leafs the 2-0 lead when he also registered while a Rockies player sat in the penalty box. With five minutes remaining in the middle stanza, rookie Colton McCarthy gave the Leafs a two-goal cushion with his 17th goal of the season.
The Leafs clung onto the lead for most of the third period, but with six minutes remaining Jake Fardoe beat Soles to get the home side within striking distance. Then with 16 seconds left in the game and the Columbia Valley net empty, Nic Hooobanoff sent the game into overtime.
Playing their second overtime in game in as many days, captain Colton Schell scored on the powerplay with three seconds left in extra frame to win the game for the Leafs.
Rockies goaltender Stewart Pratt faced 49 shots on the afternoon and got a taste of what opposition puck stoppers have gotten all season long with the Leafs.
“I think goalies look forward to challenges like that and they know they are going to get a lot of shots from our team,” said Maida. “As they get more shots and make more saves, the more confident they are going to get in a game. So if you don’t beat them early, they get more confidence as the game goes on.”
The Leafs return home Saturday night to take on the Spokane Braves. It will be jersey night at the Nelson and District Community Complex as the locals unveil their new third jersey. Everybody who wears a jersey to the game will get in free, but the night is a fundraiser for Movember and prostrate cancer so donations will be accepted.