The Nelson Leafs fought back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the Nest, 4-3, on Friday.
With the victory the Leafs win the best-of-seven Neil Murdoch Division title four games to two and will play Kimberley Dynamiters in the Kootenay Conference final starting on Tuesday, Mar. 15.
“It’s a momentum game and I just felt like we were on our heels the whole third period,” said Nitehawks head coach Terry Jones.
After tallying the 2-1 winner in Game 5, Nelson forward Bennett Anklewich scored the game winning goal for the second consecutive night. A bad bounce came off the back wall and onto his stick and Anklewich slipped it by a surprised Nitehawks goalie, Kevin Engman, for a 4-3 lead with 6:37 remaining in the third period.
“We didn’t take advantage of the power play to start,” said Jones. “We got a three goal lead, got a lucky one then kind of lost our focus in the second period and we lost that momentum against a good team, and that’s what happens.”
After opting out of the 2020-21 COVID season, Beaver Valley started the season without a foundation and a decidely young team that fought their way to a second place finish and a winning record in the Neil Murdoch Division regular season.
“I’m proud of our guys and how we battled,” said Jones. “We didn’t have a lot of roster depth and it showed in terms of experience. When you have an experienced team, those are the types of games you win and when you don’t you lose.
“I’m happy we made it as far as we did, we saw a lot of growth in a lot of good young players.”
After a fast-paced scoreless first period, Beaver Valley’s Joel Smyth opened the scoring 13 seconds into the second period. The Hawks worked the puck to the net off the faceoff, and Hunter Burgeson slipped the puck to Smyth in front who chipped it by Leafs goalie Tenzin Mint.
Burgeson made it 2-0 on a setup from Hayden Stocks amidst a flurry in front of the Nelson net. The Airdrie native slipped the puck past the pad of Mint at 2:45 for his fifth of the playoffs.
Fruitvale native Austin McKenzie made it 3-0 two minutes later on an innocent shot from the goal line, that somehow made its way past the Nelson goalie and into the net.
However, Nelson responded in the latter half of the middle frame. Anklewich started the comeback, scoring his first of the night at 8:10 to cut the lead to 3-1 and Johnny Carmichael scored a power-play goal banging in a rebound off Engman to cut the lead to one at 8:59.
The Leafs tied it on a scramble in front of the B.V. net, when Carmichael found the loose puck and fired into the back of the net for his fifth of the playoffs 11:31 into the third period.
After Anklewich’s second of the night to make it 4-3, the Nitehawks generated a few good scoring opportunities in the late going, but could not solve the Nelson netminder. B.V. pulled their goalie in the final minute but to no avail.
The Nitehawks outshot the Leafs 36-35 and were 0-for-2 on the power play, while Nelson went 1-for-3.
After a Game 7 victory over Creston in the opening round, the Nitehawks hoped for a better result in the Murdoch division final. Despite the outcome, the Nitehawks faithful, who packed the B.V. Arena on Friday, gave an appreciative send off at the end of the game for a team that showed character and resilience through a lot of adversity in the 2021-22 season.
“Overall I am really happy with where we are at as an organization and team, but at the same time we came here to win and I felt like we had a team that could win,” added Jones. “We outplayed them a lot of the games in the series, but didn’t get it done.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t do enough to win the hockey game and full marks to Nelson for the win.”
In the Eddie Mountain Division final the Dynamiters defeated the Columbia Valley Rockies 6-2 in Game 6 Friday to win the series.
Nelson will travel to Kimberley Tuesday, Mar. 15 to open the best-of-seven Conference final at 8 p.m. PT.