David Sanchez couldn’t walk a year ago. Now he’s the fastest man on the ice.
The Nelson Leafs captain suffered a major leg injury just prior to the 2018-19 playoffs. He didn’t return to the ice until October, and even then could only skate for a time at half speed.
But when the playoffs opened Friday, Sanchez showed what two working legs and a year of determination looks like on the ice.
Sanchez used a flash of speed for a breakaway goal that was Nelson’s first of the playoffs, and the Leafs went on to beat the Spokane Braves 4-1 in Game 1 of the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal.
“I can skate faster than that,” said Sanchez. “I’ll skate harder tomorrow, harder the next series if we make it there. I’m just so excited to make it here, honestly.”
Shawn Campbell scored twice, while Reid Wilson also scored for Nelson and Anderson Violette made 27 saves.
Ian McIntosh had the lone goal for Spokane, while Austin Madge stopped 26 shots.
Game 2 is Saturday in Nelson.
The visitors scored on their first shot of the series less than five minutes after the puck dropped. McIntosh had a clean look from the blueline, and his slapshot beat Violette for the early lead.
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said the goal was the product of post-season anxiety, and all his goalie needed was a little reassurance.
“I know all the players were a little nervous at the start of this game, holding their stick a little bit tight,” he said.
“Andy got caught deep in his net on that first goal and he got down on himself. As a coaching staff we just reminded him, ‘You’re an all-star goaltender in this league. Just come up to the top of the crease and we’ll live with that result.’”
Violette responded, shutting down the Braves the rest of the night with several key saves in one of his best games of the season.
“I thought he was on point making all those saves, all those ones we need, being a brick wall,” said Sanchez. “All the things we love from him.”
Spokane continued to frustrate the Leafs until late in the first when Sanchez swiped the puck from two defenders. The Leafs captain turned on the after burners and beat Madge stick side to tie the game at one.
Sanchez nearly swiped another once the second period began. He again used his speed to steal the puck from a Spokane defender and had Madge beat, but this time Sanchez’s shot rang off the post.
It was another show of speed that put the Leafs ahead. Aiden Jenner and Wilson combined for a quick 2-on-1 that ended with Wilson scoring what would turn out to be the game-winning goal.
Campbell made it 3-1 on a quick play late in the third. He turned and fired a rebound moments off a faceoff that caught Madge out of position.
Spokane might have cut the deficit by one a short time later if not for a pair of great saves by Violette. The visitors were on the power play when Violette stopped one shot then sprawled to the ground behind him, reached and out snatched the puck just before it could be shot in.
Campbell put the game out of reach in the third. Sanchez’s shot rebounded off Madge to a waiting Campbell, who calmly tapped the puck into a wide-open net for a 4-1 advantage.
That’s the first win down in what the Leafs hope will be a long playoff run.
“It settles a little bit of anxiety, but at the same time we’ve got to go back to work tomorrow,” said Sanchez.
Leaflets: Prior to the game, Leafs defenceman Kaleb Comishin was honoured as the KIJHL’s best defenceman of the Neil Murdoch Division. Comishin had eight goals and 26 assists in 37 regular season games. … Nelson played without Comishin (lower body), F Cole Wyatt (upper), D Logan Macdonald (upper) and F Tyler Badger.