Leafs forward Kieran Christianson scored his first goal with the team Saturday after being acquired from Osoyoos. Photo: Tyler Harper

Leafs forward Kieran Christianson scored his first goal with the team Saturday after being acquired from Osoyoos. Photo: Tyler Harper

New players shine as Leafs score 4 unanswered goals to beat Knights 4-1

Nelson fired 47 shots en route to the win

The storm finally feels as though it has passed over the Nelson Leafs.

In case anyone has forgotten, here’s what the Leafs’ last month has included: a line brawl that made national headlines; the suspension and resignation of their head coach; five players suspended for up to eight games; two players including their top scorer traded away; and the arrival of a new interim head coach in Briar McNaney.

It’s not been ideal, especially for a player like defenceman Tyson Lautard who is in his final junior season. But Lautard said that hockey is once again becoming the focus for a team in what has been a hurricane of a campaign.

“Probably like a week ago, it’s just started to feel like it’s a new normal,” said Lautard. “It’s been a difficult transition for everybody with the new coach and everything. We all really like Briar and we all are just starting to gel again.”

The Leafs looked calm and free of drama as they scored four unanswered goals to beat the North Okanagan Knights 4-1 on Saturday.

Lautard, Kieran Christianson, Crae Dawson and Ryan Quast scored for the Leafs (19-13-5), with Jasper Tait making 22 saves.

Grayson Williamson replied for the Knights (16-16-5), while Austin Seibel stopped 42 shots.

On Friday in Castlegar, the Leafs earned a win 5-4 despite giving up 50 shots. One night later they dominated the Knights while playing tight defence, outshooting the visitors 47-23.

McNaney said the team reviewed their defensive mistakes after the win, and the message was clearly heard by the time the Leafs returned to the ice against the Knights.

“When we fixed what we were doing defensively our offence shined and they got way more opportunity, just like the coaching staff said they would,” said McNaney. “They were rewarded for it. and they deserved every little bit of the scoreboard that they earned.”

Seibel had a rough start to the game. He was brought down seconds into the first period after a defender chased a Leaf into the Knights’ goaltender. It happened again less than four minutes later, prompting Josh Hager to come in relief for a few minutes and stop one shot while Seibel appeared to deal with an equipment issue.

The pressure stayed on Seibel as the Leafs dominated play with solid puck movement but couldn’t find a goal.

The offence for both teams broke through in the second period. The Knights survived a sustained period of Leafs offence and killed off a penalty right before defenceman Williamson scored on a point shot at 8:14.

But the Leafs answered less than five minutes later when Lautard’s shot from the top of the circle slipped by Seibel, a moment of relief against a goalie who had otherwise frustrated Nelson to the point.

The Leafs took their first lead of the game just over a minute into the third period. Carsyn Crawford found a wide-open Christianson whose shot popped Seibel’s water bottle for the 2-1 advantage.

Nelson continued to press and at one point had Seibel scrambling in his crease. It was a loose puck that gave the Leafs a 3-1 lead after Dawson tipped a point shot underneath Seibel that the Knights goalie couldn’t find beneath him.

It was the first goals for rookies Christianson and Dawson as Leafs after they were acquired from the Osoyoos Coyotes in a five-player deal.

“Nice to get the monkey off the back with the first one with the boys,” said Christianson. “It’s been nothing but great since being traded here, so I’m really happy to be with this group and happy we got the W tonight.”

McNaney said the pair of settled in quickly with their new team, which has needed them while four players remain suspended.

“Typically, you’ll wait roughly 10-to-12 games before a player settles in. These guys have fit in just as if they’ve been here the entire season. They’ve been pretty great so far on and off the ice. And as good as they’re playing on it, they’ve been even better off of it.”

The Leafs’ onslaught continued. A goal for Seamus Boyd was waved off for an offside call, but shortly after Quast forced a turnover then fired a shot from the point that lofted over Seibel’s blocker for a 4-1 advantage.

Nelson has already guaranteed a playoff berth with seven games left in the season. Lautard, a 77-game veteran who helped Nelson reach the KIJHL finals last season, said one of his goals for the remainder of the campaign was to help the team’s rookies prepare for their first post-season.

“I want the rookies to really feel confident in themselves going in since we’ve got so many. Just everyone to keep gelling together and figure out our systems more, just coming together and play hard.”

Leaflets: The Leafs held a moment of silence before puck drop for Const. Mathieu Nolet. The Nelson Police Department officer died Saturday morning due to injuries he suffered in the Jan. 9 avalanche that also killed Det. Wade Tittemore. … Several Leafs will finally return to action at their next game Tuesday against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. Tyler Seminoff, Leighton Partington, Hunter Sperle and Ryland Mennie served the last of their eight-game suspensions Saturday for their role in the Dec. 31 line brawl against Beaver Valley.

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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