As his teammates celebrated his goal, all Ryan Quast could see was the ice he’d been tackled into.
The Leafs forward was on the doorstep of Creston Valley’s crease when he tapped in Nelson’s first goal of the game Saturday. He never saw the puck go in though because Thunder Cats forward Stavros Koutsantonis took exception to where Quast was and pinned him to the ice.
Quast figured the Leafs had scored, but he wasn’t sure if it was his goal or someone else’s.
“I knew I’d touched the puck at some point. I wasn’t sure if someone else hit it off of me but I just knew it was in the net, so that’s all that mattered.”
Quast’s goal was typical of the Leafs’ 2-1 win over the Thunder Cats during which Nelson had to outwork a tenacious visiting team. Dylan Mowery also scored and Jasper Tait made 22 saves as Nelson improved to 3-0-0 to start the season.
Blake Anderson replied for the Thunder Cats (0-2-1), while Jacob Burnside stopped 31 shots.
The Leafs opened their season on Sept. 23 with a shaky performance that began with a goal against on the Princeton Posse’s first shot of the game. But three games into the season those nerves were gone as Nelson looked closer to a finished product with crisp passing, a strong forecheck and discipline that kept them out of trouble against Creston Valley.
Leafs head coach Adam DiBella said his team ironed out their play in practice, and it showed with a convincing performance.
“We had a really great week in practice and I think that showed this weekend. The intensity and what we worked on in practice, we saw a really committed team to the details tonight, which is great to see out of a young team. I thought our details are what won us the game tonight.”
The only missing piece early on was a goal. Nelson finished the period outshooting the Thunder Cats 13-4, but couldn’t find an answer to Burnside.
The goal came four minutes after the break when Quast tapped in a shot by Seamus Boyd. After the refs finally separated Koutsantonis from Quast he was sent to the box and the Leafs forward had a subdued goalscorer’s skate to his bench.
Nelson doubled its lead five minutes into the third period. Mowery’s point shot slipped through a crowd past Burnside for a 2-0 advantage.
“That was really big for (Mowery),” said Quast. “He had a really strong game tonight and stepped up when we needed him. He was one of our best D tonight and was a game changer with that goal.”
Boyd also assisted on Mowery’s goal, and was a constant presence in the offensive zone throughout the game. The Nelson native had five goals and 12 assists in his rookie campaign last season, but appears to have found another gear.
“Seamus has been probably our most dynamic player through the first three games,” said DiBella. “He has surprised me with his offensive creativity and I think if he continues on this projection he’s in tow for a great year.”
The Leafs poured on the pressure and twice nearly scored on a series of chances, one of which was a 2-on-1 that Burnside patiently waited out then slid across his crease to stop. The save was so unlikely that the goal light briefly flashed behind him.
The Thunder Cats had played a tough game to that point and their players showed a willingness to rush the Leafs’ net. It paid off when Anderson ended Tait’s shutout bid with 6:48 left in the game.
Creston Valley pulled Burnside in the dying minutes and called a timeout. But the visitors had an ill-advised icing call against them, forcing Burnside back to his net and helping the Leafs stay undefeated at the buzzer.
Leaflets: Tait and Burnside embraced at centre ice at the end of the game. The pair previously played at the Okanagan Hockey Academy. … Nelson next hosts the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Sunday.