Josh Williams prefers the show-don’t-tell approach to his goaltending.
The Nelson Leafs netminder has not surrendered a goal in three straight games. He leads the league in wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. He made several highlight-reel saves Saturday that made the price of admission a steal.
So after a 29-save performance in the Leafs’ 3-0 win over the league-leading Kimberley Dynamiters, Williams deferred to his teammates several times before very, very hesitantly admitting what his favourite save of the game was.
“It was a weird, bouncing puck. It was the weirdest thing I’d done all game anyway,” he said.
It was actually a breathtaking scramble involving two quick saves at the goal-line on, yes, a weird and bouncing puck, that drew a loud applause from the crowd.
That was just one of several jaw-dropping saves Williams made against a Dynamiters team who came to Nelson on a nine-game winning streak.
Whereas Williams erred on the side of humility, Leafs defenceman Zach Morey was more forthcoming about how spectacular his goaltender has been.
“He’s playing unbelievable. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for how he’s playing right now,” said Morey. “He saved my butt a couple of times and I think all the defencemen would say the same.”
Nelson won its fourth straight game following goals by Ryan Piva, Dash Thompson and Michael Bladon, while Sawyer Hunt chipped in with three assists. The Leafs share first place with the Castlegar Rebels in the Neil Murdoch Division, while both teams are just one point behind Kimberley for first in the KIJHL.
Cody Campbell stopped 25 shots in net for the Dynamiters.
The win came one night after the Leafs edged the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in Fruitvale to secure a playoff berth.
Caiden Kreitz made 28 saves in his debut for Nelson, while Nicholas Wihak and Justin Podgorenko each scored.
On Saturday, Kimberley didn’t get a shot on net for the first 13 minutes of the game. They were hampered by three penalties in the first 10 minutes and a strong Leafs’ forecheck.
Both teams traded punches in the second.
Kimberley took control of the game for the first 10 minutes but it was the Leafs who opened the scoring. Just five seconds into a power play a Wihak shot rebounded to Piva, who was in the right place at the right time for a very important first goal.
It took a major defensive effort for Nelson to hold that lead through two periods. Thompson and Podgorenko each took penalties, leaving the Leafs pinned in their zone down two men for a minute.
But a stellar effort by Morey, who had two blocks, and five saves from Williams helped Nelson’s league-best penalty-kill unit to emerge unscathed.
“They were making sure there was nothing backdoor, no one was able to tip anything, it was perfect,” said Williams. “I was able to see everything the whole time.”
The penalty kill was a microcosm of how Nelson has become an elite defensive team this season. During the current winning streak, Nelson has allowed just one goal against.
“I think something just clicked with the boys,” said Morey. “We knew that we had the capability to win and something was just a little off, and the last couple games we’ve all defined what our roles are and all the guys are playing to what their roles are, and that’s really helped the team.”
Williams made yet another heart-stopping save five minutes after the break. He did the splits to stop a 2-on-1, and then had to briefly backstop his own roughing penalty after pushing a Dynamiter’s face to the ice in his crease.
That penalty kill was made moot by a Kimberley boarding call, and once the Leafs took the man advantage Thompson rung up a beauty one-timer to put Nelson up 2-0.
A tight contest became a walk for Nelson at 9:40 of the third. Hunt found Bladon with a saucer pass in the slot and the Leafs defenceman batted it past Campbell.
And then the spotlight was on Williams yet again. Kimberley found itself with a 3-on-1 that ended with an opposing player’s point-blank shot at Williams, who coolly flashed his glove for another stunning stop.
The Dynamiters blew their fuse in the dying minutes of the game. A parade of Kimberley players marched to the penalty box for a variety of calls, giving Nelson an emphatic victory against the best team, for now anyway, in the league.
Leaflets: The Leafes hosted the Spokane Braves on Tuesday night after the Star’s publishing deadline. For that story, see Friday’s edition or nelsonstar.com. … Nelson has added a third assistant coach. Adam DiBella permanently joined the bench as of Dec. 29, 2017. … Nelson’s Dec. 29 road game against Beaver Valley has been rescheduled for Jan. 21. The game was postponed in the first period by an electrical outage.