Drops of blood from Ryan Cooper’s nose trailed off the ice into the Nelson Leafs’ locker-room.
The scoresheet won’t show what happened — no call was made when Cooper suffered a blatant head shot in the third period that left him face down on the ice — so only the blood will have to stand as evidence.
An already ugly game then got further out of hand after Dallas Goodwin scored the winning overtime goal to give the Castlegar Rebels a 2-1 win over Nelson on Saturday.
One of the visitors clipped Leafs goaltender Josh Williams as he was skating off the ice, setting off a brawl that ended with one of the linesmen pinning Logan Wullum to the ice and Nelson coach Mario DiBella alleging another official had pushed Brent Headon’s face into the plexiglass.
“He should be thrown out of hockey forever,” said DiBella.
For his part, Headon wasn’t sure who squished his face. His hand was also bleeding after the game, another injury he didn’t know how he’d sustained but said it came in the post-game confrontation.
“There was definitely some calls missed,” said Headon. “Ryan’s hit, [Michael] Bladon’s hit, Nick [Wihak’s] hit, all those calls would have been called on us, I’m sure.”
Cooper opted to be diplomatic when asked about his hit, but DiBella was livid. He said the officials had told him it wasn’t a head shot.
“The kid’s split open, he’s bleeding all over the bench and apparently that’s not a call,” said DiBella. “But as soon as Castlegar feels contact, they dive to the ice, wriggle around, get up and the next thing you know their C or their A’s are over bitching at the referee about how they’re being treated on the ice.”
Cooper and Headon weren’t the only Leafs hurting after the game. Jack Karran exited with an upper-body injury, and Wihak had to be helped off the ice after a hard hit in the neutral zone.
The result gave Castlegar its ninth-straight victory and moved the Rebels to within two points of the Leafs at the top of the division standings. Jordon Wood had the other goal for the Rebels (21-7-1), while Tanner Douglas made 18 saves.
Ryan Piva had the lone goal for the Leafs (21-6-3), with Josh Williams stopping 22 shots.
The Leafs drew first blood after Castlegar’s Jacob Lindsey went to the penalty box for slashing. The puck bounced around in the crease until Piva batted it in to put the Leafs up by one five minutes into regulation.
Headon, who usually plays forward but was on the blue-line Saturday, showed his defensive chops as the period wound down. Two Rebels broke away with a 2-on-1, but Headon played Ed Lindsey perfectly by cutting off the passing lane and stripping Lindsey before the Castlegar star could make a play.
Lindsey, who is fourth overall in league scoring, continued to be a pest in the second period. He had two good chances on Williams, the first a screened shot and the next a look at the far post, but the Leafs goalie stood his ground on each shot.
Lindsey had yet another try with 20 seconds left only to be denied once again by Williams, who kept the Leafs ahead by one heading into the third.
A scary incident occurred eight minutes after the break when Vince Bitonti and Wihak collided shoulder-to-shoulder in the neutral zone. Bitonti skated away but Wihak went to the ice and lay motionless. He was attended to by a trainer and helped off the ice. There was no call on the play.
Moments later Williams made a terrific save to hold the Leafs’ lead. A Rebels’ 2-on-1 gave Andrew Petten a clear look. He tried beating Williams on the far post but the star goaltender did the splits on a save that had the crowd buzzing.
Castlegar finally broke Williams just as a power play was ending. Wood backhanded a shot that just slipped between Williams’ pad and the post to end his shut-out bid.
Cooper had a terrific chance to restore the Leafs’ lead. He was set loose with Justin Podgorenko but his shot went wide on Douglas.
“I thought we played a pretty good game,” said Cooper. “Just mental breakdowns is all it comes down to. It sucks, especially losing in overtime to our rivals. We play them [three more] times. Confident we’ll win the rest.”
Leaflets: The Leafs were missing two defencemen to suspensions. Michael LeNoury is eligible to return Tuesday, while Ethan Land started serving a three-game ban for kneeing and a game misconduct handed out in the final 10 minutes of Friday’s game in Fernie. … F Mitchell Lavoie made his home debut with the Leafs. He was added earlier this week after being released by the Revelstoke Grizzlies and scored in his first appearance with Nelson in Friday’s 7-3 win over the Ghostriders. The Leafs also called up D Nathan Ingram for the game. He plays in the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League for the Kootenay Ice. … Nelson is back on home ice Tuesday against the Grand Forks Border Bruins before the holiday break.