Sawyer Hunt couldn’t remember the last time he had a penalty shot. Maybe in minor hockey? Maybe never?
It hardly mattered — he knew what to do when the moment finally came.
The Nelson Leafs captain scored two goals, one of which came on a rarely seen penalty shot, in a 5-2 win over the Columbia Valley Rockies on Friday.
“I’m not actually the best breakaway shooter,” said Hunt. “I only went one of three on my breakaways.”
Sure, but the one he scored on in the second period was a beauty.
“It goes through your head what you’re going to do,” said Hunt. “I didn’t want to do anything to fancy so I just faked him out and made him open his legs. I saw five-hole so I just slid it in there.”
Hunt, who also assisted on the game’s first goal, was buzzing all night as the Leafs won their third straight game. Jack Karran, Ryan Piva and Justin Podgorenko also scored for the Leafs (30-8-3), with Josh Williams making 17 saves.
If the game had been closer it might have been a duel between captains. Rockies leader Ryan Skytt had both goals for the visitors, while goaltender Joshua King allowed all five goals on 41 shots.
It took just 59 seconds for the game’s first goal.
Karran was well-placed in the slot to backhand a bouncing puck past King after a good effort by Hunt to pass the puck while sprawled out on the ice.
Nelson squandered a chance for a second goal a short time later. Columbia Valley (18-18-7) put itself into trouble with two men in the box, but the Leafs’ power-play unit had difficulty setting up and barely challenged King.
That came back to haunt the Leafs at 7:53 of the first. Nelson took an ill-advised too-many-men penalty, which set the stage for Skytt to pounce on a big rebound and tie the game at one.
Nelson head coach Mario DiBella said his team responded after a pep talk at the intermission.
“We had a heart to heart,” he said. “The first four minutes we played well, we scored a goal, and then we went to sleep. I would agree we were sluggish. We just need to understand that as the first-place team in this division, no matter who we play, we dictate the pace of play.”
Karran had to be helped off the ice with a minute left in the period. He got tangled with a Rockies player and looked in severe discomfort as he left play. He didn’t return for the remainder of the game, and DiBella said after he’d suffered a lower-body injury.
“He’s a pretty important player for us,” said Podgorenko. “It’s tough to see him go down like that. We’re hearing he should be all right, it’s nothing too serious, so hopefully he’s back for playoffs or sooner.”
Three goals helped the Leafs take control during an eventful second period.
Hunt’s first of the game came on the man advantage just a minute and a half after the break. He whipped a wrist shot that King had little chance to stop from flying over his blocker-side shoulder to restore Nelson’s lead.
Just over three minutes later Nelson went up 3-1 thanks to some nice work by Jackson Zimmermann. He worked to get the puck behind the Rockies’ net where he found a wide-open Piva who had nothing but net for the easy goal.
The Leafs were playing short-handed when Hunt manufactured the penalty shot. He was pulled down on a breakaway but made no mistake on the ensuing opportunity to the delight of the crowd.
DiBella said he couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen a penalty shot in the KIJHL.
“I thought [Hunt] was stellar. He was all over the puck, he had a great active stick and scored two great goals.”
A spearing penalty by Ethan Beattie put Nelson on a four-minute penalty kill. That came to nothing for Columbia Valley, and Nelson went to the lockers with a three-goal lead.
The game started to resemble a blowout shortly after play resumed.
Podgorenko skated into the Rockies zone uncontested on a 2-on-1 and fired a wrister that knuckled over King’s glove and in.
“I was just waiting for a pass. When the D-man committed to the other side I just put it on net,” said Podgorenko, before adding, “Lucky.”
Hunt had a look at a hat trick on yet another breakaway. The setup was the same — a Rockies giveaway with the Leafs on the penalty kill — and Hunt had the speed but made one too many dekes and couldn’t get a shot off.
Skytt tallied his second of the night halfway through the third. A defensive breakdown by the Leafs somehow led to Williams sprawled out well out of his crease. Meanwhile the puck bounced to Skytt for an open-net goal, which cut the score to 5-2.
Still, with the visitors still down three goals, Skytt’s score failed to inspire his side. The rest of the game, which had already essentially been decided, played out slowly as both teams waited for the buzzer.
Leaflets: Nelson played its first of five February home games wearing an alternative jersey to mark Autism Awareness Month. … The Leafs were without D Dash Thompson (upper body) and F Logan Wullum, who served the last of a three-game suspension. … Nelson next hosts the Spokane Braves on Saturday before greeting the Castlegar Rebels for a matinee Sunday.