Shawn Campbell had to sit and stew on the sidelines before his body would let him play for the Nelson Leafs.
So when he finally made his first appearance of the regular season, Campbell made it count.
The new Leaf scored in his debut and played crucial penalty killing minutes against his former team in a 6-3 win over the Castlegar Rebels on Friday.
The result was a relief for the veteran. Campbell was acquired by the Leafs from the Rebels in the off-season, but suffered a lower-body injury just prior to the regular season and kept him out of the team’s first eight games.
“It was pretty tough,” said Campbell. “I got pretty mad at myself, but I’ve stayed positive.”
Jack Karran scored twice, while Kaleb Comishin, Joshua Stypka and Cole Jensen added singles for the Leafs (7-1-1). C.J. Wedenig meanwhile made 26 saves for his second win of the season.
“C.J. was great. The best I’ve seen him,” said Leafs assistant coach Adam DiBella. “He held us in for the first two periods when we maybe didn’t have our best effort. He was the backbone for us.”
Brandon Costa, Brady Daniels and Tristan Jones replied for the Rebels (2-6-0), with Davyn LaRocke stopping 19 shots.
The Leafs started the game slow and took over 10 minutes to register their first shot on net. But the lack of shots matched a sluggish pace on the ice in a period that felt far longer than it actually was.
Karran ended the doldrums with just 25.7 seconds left in the first. He finished off two minutes in the penalty box, skated onto the ice and moments later swept a backhand between LaRocke and the post for a 1-0 Leafs lead.
Nelson’s captain picked up his team yet again less than three minutes after the break. Karran was gifted a breakaway during a penalty kill and scored on LaRocke to put the Leafs up by two.
That goal seemed to revitalize the Leafs, who played with a pulse from then on.
It was the Rebels however who scored next. Leafs defenceman Alex Erichuk was serving a cross-checking penalty when Costa put the puck between Wedenig’s pads, cutting the deficit to one.
Two minutes later Costa had another chance on the breakaway, but Wedenig was patient on the deke and made a pad save.
Campbell restored Nelson’s two-goal lead on a pretty deflection. Kalem Hanlon fired a shot that Campbell flicked into the far corner past LaRocke with just two seconds left on a penalty.
“We picked it up in the second period, probably one of the best seconds of our season so far, but then it kind of fell apart again in the third,” said Karran. “[We were] taking too many penalties and letting our goalie down.”
The Leafs found themselves with four players in the penalty box halfway through the third period.
Just as the Leafs got one player out of the box another went in. Joshua Stypka had a short-handed breakaway but was called for a slashing penalty that had the crowd of 600 roaring their disapproval.
But Nelson was saved by the spectacular play of Wedenig, who made several heart-stopping stops to keep the Rebels goalless throughout the prolonged penalty kill.
“He had a great game for us,” said Campbell. “We just had to stay positive through that penalty killing and we did, plus our goalie made some great saves. Everyone was working hard.”
Comishin then put the game out of Castlegar’s reach with five minutes left in the third. Nelson was on a power play when Comishin showed off his nasty wristshot that beat LaRocke for the 4-1 lead.
The next two goals were all Jensen.
He rifled a slapshot from the point that was deflected by Stypka for a goal. Then, less than a minute later, Jensen was in the same spot for another slapshot that found its way in on its own for a 6-1 lead.
The Rebels earned a pair of pyrrhic victories in the final two minutes of the game. Daniels managed to beat Wedenig glove side for a goal, and shortly after Jones added another, but the comeback was too little, too late.
“I don’t think we had our best effort through the night,” said DiBella, “but we dug in there pretty good. We had some of our veterans step up. [Kaleb] Comishin didn’t step off the ice for almost the entire 5-on-3. Ryan Piva, Logan Wullum, Shawn Campbell … It just shows you the heart this group has.”
Leaflets: F Ryan Piva was named the KIJHL’s Kootenay Conference Player of the Month for September. Piva had 10 goals and eight assists in seven games. G Caiden Kreitz earned an honourable mention for finishing the month with six wins, a 2.01 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in seven games. … The Leafs were missing F Keenan Crossman (upper body) and F David Sanchez (suspension). … Nelson next visits the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Saturday.