The Nelson Junior Leafs asserted their spot as one of the elite teams in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League over the weekend with a pair of decisive wins over tough competition.
On Friday night the Leafs trounced defending league champion Beaver Valley 12-0 at the Nelson and District Community Complex and followed it up with a 6-1 victory over Doug Birks Division powerhouse Sicamous Eagles on Sunday afternoon.
“It feels unreal,” Leafs’ power forward Jacob Boyczuk said after Sunday’s win. “As a team we are really working well together and the goals are coming. It feels really good to come to the rink.”
In late-October the Leafs traveled to Fruitvale and skated away with a surprising 10-3 win over the always strong Nitehawks. Expecting a much stronger challenge on Friday at the NDCC, the Leafs came out firing.
Boyczuk scored one minute into the game setting the tone for a total dismantling of their visitors. The locals kept the offence flying and stymied any attempt for the Nitehawks to produce their own chances on their way to the slaughter.
Rookie Colton McCarthy followed up on Boyczuk’s opener and then the latter closed the first period scoring to make it 3-0 after 20 minutes. The Leafs’ defence allowed only two shots on Nelson starter Cody Boeckman in the opening period.
The Nitehawks put up a slightly stronger fight in the second period, but the Leafs’ offence erupted for five goals on Nitehawks’ veteran goaltender Zach Perehudoff in the final six minutes of the middle stanza. Five different Leafs scored the second period goals — Aaron Dunalp, Linden Horswil, Matthew Naka, Dustin Reimer and Greg Nickel.
Not willing to give the once mighty Nitehawks a break, the Leafs expanded on their assault in the final period, adding four more goals. Dunlap, Bryce Nielson, McCarthy and Boyczuk’s hat trick goal rounded out the scoring.
Boyczuk was aquired by the Leafs over the summer in a trade for Walker Sidoni. The Trail native was part of the Nitehawks KIJHL championship season last season. The 18-year-old said the two losses to the Leafs will no doubt impact the Nitehawks in the dressing room.
“It’s really going to take down their confidence a lot,” said Boyczuk. “I think they are going to be scared to play us for the rest of the season.”
That said, Boyczuk added it’s a long season and he doesn’t expect Beaver Valley to fold.
“They are not a team to sit back and roll over, we will have to just keep bringing it,” he said.
On Sunday afternoon against Sicamous, Nelson Minor Hockey grad Matt Macdonald opened the scoring just under three minutes into the game to give the home side the early advantage.
With just over six minutes left in the opening period, Eagles forward Kelyn Opel beat Nelson starter Brett Soles to tie the game.
McCarthy kept his torrid early season scoring pace going when he restored the lead with just under a minute left in the first 20.
The second period was all Leafs as Schell and Jacob Boyczuk added a pair in the middle frame.
Schell’s goal was set up by a nice defensive play at the Leafs’ blueline by Kevin Bow which sent the Nelson captain into the Eagles’ zone with great speed. Schell came off the right wing and cut across the front of the Eagles net, stuffing one past Jake Surgenor.
Schell also factored large in Boyczuk’s goal when he passed across the offensive zone to McCarthy who confidently knocked down the puck out of the air and onto the Sicamous goal. Boyczuk then banged in the rebound.
The Eagles showed signs of life in the third, but Soles was equal to the task turning away eight shots. Schell and MacDonald closed out the scoring.
“We have been working really hard off the ice,” MacDonald said on one of the keys to the Leafs’ current seven-game winning streak. “We have a good team, but more importantly everybody likes each other… it’s a very positive atmosphere.”
The four-point weekend keeps the Leafs atop the Neil Murdoch Division standings, two points clear of Castlegar.
The Leafs next action is Friday night when they travel to Grand Forks to take on the Border Bruins who have lost 18 straight. They return home on Saturday night for a tilt against the Golden Rockets of the Eddie Mountain Division.
IN THE CREASE: Leafs defenceman Seth Schmidt was called up to play for the Trail Smoke Eaters on Friday and Saturday night… Nelson Minor Hockey grad Dallon Stoddart returned to the Leafs line-up after spending the first couple months in Junior A in Manitoba… The recent spurt of offence has the Leafs dominating the KIJHL individual stats. Schell leads the league in points with 31 and assists with 21. McCarthy leads the league in goals with 15… The Leafs goal differential as a team sits at a whopping +45. The next closest team in that category is Castlegar with a +27 difference between goals for and goals against… Soles’ win over Sicamous was his eighth of the season and currently boasts a perfect 8-0 record as a starter. The rookie netminder also leads the league in goals-against-average with a 1.89… Every player on the Leafs has registered at least two points so far this season.