Tyler Nypower had every reason to think the Nelson Leafs were in for a good night.
Nypower’s goal just over a minute into Game 1 of the Neil Murdoch Division final looked like a statement of intent. Instead, it turned out to be the start of a very long night for the Leafs.
“I mean, you never know with playoffs, especially if one team wants it more than the other,” he said. “Tonight we didn’t really come out, we didn’t perform.”
What they did instead was lay an egg. The Leafs were thoroughly outplayed in a 5-2 loss to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Saturday.
Nelson goaltender Caiden Kreitz allowed all five goals on 14 shots before being replaced by Hunter Young, who made seven saves. Cole Wyatt meanwhile also scored for the Leafs, who host Game 2 on Sunday.
Paul Leroux scored a hat trick, Nolan Corrado and Luke Recchi added singles for Nitehawks. Noah Decottignies meanwhile finished with 27 saves.
The Leafs looked as though they were still recovering from their Game 7 win against Spokane on Wednesday. Beaver Valley on the other hand appeared rested and prepared following a sweep of Grand Forks.
“Our lack of desire to compete was atrocious,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. “I felt that the team on a whole just didn’t show up. Chalk that up to the emotional win in Game 7. That might account for the first period but it certainly doesn’t account for the entire game. We should just be better.”
Early goals by both teams set the tone for the first period.
Nypower skated in on his own from the neutral zone, slowed down for several dekes and sniped the top corner to give Nelson a lead just 1:20 into the game.
But it was a tie game again only 48 seconds later. Leroux unleashed a wrist shot that was too slick for Kreitz to save.
Leroux added another on the power play to give Beaver Valley its first lead of the game.
Beaver Valley took its first lead at 8:38 of the first. Leroux deflected a shot just seven seconds into a power play, giving the Nitehawks two goals on just five shots.
“I think maybe in our heads we thought it would be a cake walk, but man, we sure did not come prepared to give it all tonight and you could see it after the first period,” said Wyatt. “We were losing puck battles and races, we weren’t playing like the Nelson Leafs.”
There was no catching the visitors after that.
Beaver Valley exploded for three goals in the second period, starting with Corrado surprising Kreitz only 24 seconds after the puck drop.
Recchi skated behind the net and slipped a backhand past Kreitz at 9:31 of the period, and exactly one minute later Leroux beat Kreitz on a very tight angle for the 5-1 lead.
That ended Kreitz’s night, and essentially ended the Leafs’ night as well with half the contest still to play.
“Caiden’s the best goaltender in the league and everybody’s allowed an off night,” said DiBella. “I thought he was deep on a few goals and he’ll bounce back because he’s a champion.”
Despite the lopsided score and a thick air of defeat hanging over the ice the game marched on, as it tends to do. Beaver Valley had the luxury of sitting on a comfortable lead, and Nelson played what could only be described as perfunctory hockey.
The Leafs got one back with 4:23 left in the game. Wyatt got his stick on a bouncing puck and chipped it over Decottignies’ shoulder.
The final minutes, however, ticked away and the Nitehawks celebrated an important opening win on the road.
“I just think the other team was hungrier for the puck than we were,” said Nypower. “I’m not quite sure why but we’ve got to figure that out.”
Leaflets: Take the game’s shot totals with a grain of salt. At least two or three Beaver Valley shots in the first period did not appear on the scoreboard. … The game featured a penalty shot by Leafs forward Reid Wilson in the second period that was turned aside by Decottignies.