Ryan Keilty felt the puck ricochet off his shin, and a second later he heard the goal horn sound.
His teammates surrounded him, but it took Keilty a moment to realize he had scored a goal. Even the referee had to interrupt the celebration to double check what had happened.
“It actually went off my shin. I don’t know where it went after that,” said Keilty, before stating what was self-evident. “It obviously went into the net.”
Keilty’s goal was a product of Nelson overwhelming the Spokane Braves with shots en route to a 3-1 win in a game that should have been a blowout if it weren’t for the visiting netminder.
Braves goaltender Trevor Dilauro had a dominant night, stopping 44 shots according to the scoreboard. (The scoresheet disagreed and had Dilauro down as making 61 saves. The correct save total is probably somewhere in between.)
If Spokane had any offence, the Leafs might have been in trouble Friday night.
“I thought had it not been for their goaltender the score would have been more dramatic in our favour,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella.
Jaiden LaPorte and Ryan Cooper also scored for Nelson (13-3-2), while Josh Williams made 21 saves. The win kept the Leafs three points ahead of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks for first place in the Neil Murdoch Division.
Andrew Clark had the lone goal for Spokane (4-12-3).
Former Leaf Cooper Schroder had the game’s first best chance. Both sides were playing four-on-four when Schroeder found himself alone behind Nelson’s defence with a clear breakaway, but Williams closed the pads to deny the early goal.
The Leafs drew first blood on a nice tag-team play between LaPorte and Sawyer Hunt. LaPorte crossed the Braves’ blueline and dropped a pass to a trailing Hunt. He toe-dragged his way to the centre of the ice and fired a shot that LaPorte tipped in for a 1-0 lead nearly eight minutes into the first period.
That lead was doubled about six minutes later. Ethan Land bounced a pass off the boards in Nelson’s zone and found a streaking Cooper with nothing but open ice in front of him. A nifty deke, a puck that slipped under Dilauro’s pads and it was 2-0.
Cooper nearly had another before the period ended. He somehow deked through three Braves and again found himself alone with Dilauro, but his top-shelf shot went too high.
The second period was given a jolt when Leafs forward Jackson Zimmerman and Braves defenceman Jason Hambelton suddenly started throwing punches. It wasn’t clear what started the brawl, but it didn’t last long — both players went to the ice quickly and were promptly tossed from the game.
The period ended with just Keilty’s goal for Nelson despite the Leafs outshooting the visitors 19-5, and the contest felt like colour-by-numbers hockey in the third.
Nelson continued to press but struggled to beat Dilauro, who was up to the task despite not having any help from his teammates.
He got lucky, too. On one play Dilauro lost the puck behind the net to Nicholas Wihak, but the Spokane netminder slid on his pads to block what should have been an open net for Logan Wullum.
As the game drew to a close Nelson took three consecutive penalties. Brent Headon (roughing), Michael Bladon (slashing) and Sawyer Hunt (slashing) paraded to the penalty box, which gave the Braves a late opportunity to break up what had been a slow night for Williams.
On the ensuing 5-on-3, Spokane’s Clark made sure they his team left Nelson with at least one goal when his point shot found empty net above Williams’ right shoulder. The goal was the first of the season for Clark.
“I thought we played with total control and composure,” said DiBella. “There were a lot of penalties called. I was explaining to my other coaches there were times when penalties were called and I didn’t even know who they would be called on.”
The penalty continued and nearly ended in a Leafs’ short-handed goal. Cooper sent a long dribbler down the ice toward an empty Spokane net, but the puck stopped inches from the goal-line.
Friday’s game was just one of two appearances Nelson will make at home in November. The Leafs now leave for a season-high six-game road trip, starting with a return to Spokane on Saturday, before finally returning home Nov. 25 against the Castlegar Rebels.
Keilty said his team aren’t too concerned about the long trip.
“We’re just concentrating on the next one,” he said. “Being top of the division is nice but we know everyone’s coming for us now, so we’ve got to be prepared.”