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Cooper scores four times to power Leafs one step closer to Murdoch Division Crown

Ryan Cooper fights for the puck against the Rebels during the first period of Sunday KIJHL contest between Nelson and Castlegar at the NDCC Arena. — Bruce Fuhr, The Nelson Daily

It was a Ryan Cooper Show Sunday afternoon at the NDCC Arena.

The Alberta native scored four times to power the Nelson Leafs to a 5-3 victory over the Castlegar Rebels in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action.

The win not only snapped a three-game losing slide against their West Kootenay rivals, but also allowed the Leafs to move ever so close to clinching the Murdoch Division regular season title.

Nelson now leads the Murdoch Division standings by eight points over Castlegar.

The Rebels will need to run the table to capture the division, while at the same time, the Leafs will need to lose its final four games.

Castlegar opened the scoring in the game on the power play when a shot by Rebel captain Vince Bitonti found the top corner of the net past a screened Caiden Kreitz in the Nelson nets.

However, Bitonti found himself in the showers five minutes later after being penalized for a game misconduct for a head shot to Leafs center Nicholas Wihak near the boards behind the Nelson net.

The extended power play allowed the Leafs to score the tying goal as Cooper sniped a shot past Curt Doyle in the Castlegar nets.

In the second period, it was the Ryan Cooper Show as the Leaf center scored three consecutive times, the last marker coming 36 seconds remaining in the period to give Nelson a commanding 4-1 lead. Nelson outshot the Rebels 18-6 in the frame.

The late-period goal proved to be just enough insurance for Nelson as Dallas Goodwin and Brady Daniels scored in the third period to cut the margin to 4-3.

However, Logan Wullum, playing his second game after sitting out a three-game suspension, scored into the empty net to secure the victory.

Kreitz, perfect in goal since arriving in Nelson, registered his second win of the weekend in goal as the Leafs won the shots game 36-24.

Kreitz was in goal Saturday as Nelson dumped Spokane Braves 4-1.

Ethan Land, Justin Podgorenko, Brendan Mckay and David Sanchez scored for the Leafs as Nelson completed the season sweep against the Braves.

Trail Thompson scored the lone goal for the Braves, still with a glimmer of hope of overtaking the Grand Forks Border Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Murdoch Division.

Currently, the Bruins hold a five-point advantage over Spokane.

Nelson hosts Grand Forks Friday and Castlegar Saturday before closing out the season on the road in the Sunflower City Friday, February 16 and in Fruitvale against the Nitehawks Saturday, February 17.

BLUELINES: Nelson played the final two games of the weekend home set without the services of forward Jack Karran. The lanky winger suffered a lower body injury Friday against Columbia Valley and needed to be helped from the ice. . . . Nelson, improving to 32-8-1-0-2, trails KIJHL leader Kimberley for top spot in the league by a single point. . . . Nelson has won five straight games. . . . Nelson defenceman Michael LeNoury finished the game with three assists. . . .Leaf captain Sawyer Hunt ran his consecutive point streak to 12 games after registering a pair of assists. Hunt leads Nelson in scoring with 51 points. . . . Ryan Cooper leads the team in goals with 20.