Trail Thompson says the Nelson Leafs are all good.
They just lost their leading scorer to a Junior A team, have enough injured players to fill an emergency ward and are relying on a goaltender who only suited up last week to carry them in net.
But it’s cool. Everyone chill. The Leafs, Thompson says, are fine.
“The boys are still bumpin’ in the room, still groovin’. It’s going well.”
They weren’t exactly groovin’ on the ice Saturday, but the Leafs still managed to outplay a tenacious visitor in a 3-1 win over the Fernie Ghostriders.
Thompson, Easton Jolie and Michael LeNoury each scored for the Leafs (15-4-1), who were missing six players to injury. Nelson is also now without Ryan Piva, who led the team with 14 goals and 18 assists but has been promoted to the Drayton Valley Thunder in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said the goal of the team and the KIJHL is to further the hockey skills and education of its players.
“We’re pleased to see players move on,” said DiBella. “Obviously nights like this where goals were pretty stingy, we would like to see a Ryan Piva in the lineup, but pretty soon we’ll have a couple other players lighting up this rink and it will be exciting for the Nelson fans.”
One of those new players already lighting up the rink is goaltender Hunter Young.
Young started the season with the Flin Flon Bombers in the SJHL before being traded to the MJHL’s Selkirk Steelers and eventually signed by Nelson, which lost No. 1 goalie Caiden Kreitz to injury last month. Young now has a 2-0-1 record with the Leafs after stopping 26 shots Saturday.
“The team played great and hard in front of me,” said Young. “It always makes my job a lot easier when I’ve got good defence. I thought I was seeing the puck well tonight. I had good energy. The crowd helped me out.”
Brendan Nemes had the lone goal for the Ghostriders (10-8-2), while goaltender Justin Faiella made 22 saves.
The first period was a tepid 20 minutes of hockey for the Leafs, who managed just five shots on Faiella. Young meanwhile stopped 13 shots including a backhand from in close by former Nelson player David Lenzin.
DiBella said Young’s movement looks a lot like Kreitz. “It’s like watching a four-by-six piece of plywood go side to side in the net.”
The game found a pulse in the second.
Nelson nearly put itself on the scoreboard in the first minute after Emery Neilson picked off a pass in the Fernie zone. Neilson passed to an open Mitchell Lavoie, but Faiella was ready to make the save.
That first goal did eventually come to Nelson. Jack Karran connected with Thompson on a 2-on-1 goal that injected some life in the arena.
“Logan [Wullum] made a great play up the wall to Jack, and Jack’s debatable one of the fastest guys in the league,” said Thompson. “It was pretty easy on my end.”
The lead stood until late in the period. Wullum was in the box for a slashing penalty when Nemes fired a knuckleball that went bar down on Young to tie the game heading into the final 20 minutes.
Jolie restored the Leafs’ advantage on a fortuitous bounce off the boards that found the forward behind the Ghostriders’ defence where he completed the short breakaway to put Nelson up 2-1 at 17:25.
Nelson had just finished a power play when Fernie responded with a rush. Young stopped the first Ghostriders’ shot and had the crowd buzzing after he dropped a knee to stop the quick rebound shot.
The insurance goal came with just over three minutes left to play. Nelson used some tick-tock passing on a power play to find LeNoury, who came in from the point to shoot on a wide-open goal.
Fernie went on the power play and pulled Faiella for the 6-on-4. The Ghostriders’ best chance came on a cross-ice shot that Young batted aside with his blocker to preserve the Leafs’ win.
Leaflets: The Leafs injury list includes: G Caiden Kreitz, D Dylan Rantucci, D Kaleb Comishin, F Scott Lancaster, F Shawn Campbell and F Tyler Nypower. … Nelson next faces the Braves in Spokane on Sunday.