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Leafs climb into top spot in Murdoch Division, Castlegar's Lawczynski earns KI First Star

Nelson Leafs lead the Murdoch Division standings over Beaver Valley 15 games into the 2021-22 KIJHL regular season.

The Nelson Leafs have climbed to the top of the Neil Murdoch Division of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with nine wins, including an 8-0 victory over the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Tuesday.

Rookie defenceman Bryce Sookro now leads the team with 13 points in 14 games. Sookro enjoyed a two-goal, three-point performance against the Border Bruins. The Leafs have improved to 6-2 when scoring first.

Close behind the Leafs is rival Beaver Valley Nitehawks, with eight wins in 15 games. The Nitehawks lost both their games last weekend.

“We’re struggling. Lots of little things are happening and we’re not adapting well. Our discipline has been horrible and our attention to detail is really lacking, and our special teams play has really fallen off,” says Head Coach and General Manager Terry Jones.

“As a young team, when things start to go sideways, and south a little bit, the confidence of a lot of the players goes south too. That is what we have been focusing on in practice, is rebuilding our confidence and shoring up some of the details.”

The positive is that Jones still sees his team competing hard, it’s just finding that fine line between competing too hard and being undisciplined. The players want to win and play well and sometimes “they go a little overboard.”

Jones has liked the performance of Austin McKenzie, who he says has been shining bright. 

“He’s got six goals in the last three games and has been playing really hard and really competitive and definitely a bright light for us right now,” says Jones.

The Nitehawks play host to Nelson in a rare back-to-back weekend home series beginning Friday in Fruitvale.

Both games begin at 7 p.m.

Nelson returns home to host Kimberley, Castlegar and Beaver Valley at the NDCC Arena to conclude November's schedule.

First Star Lawczynski paces Rebels resurgence

The Castlegar Rebels, riding the stellar netminding of Ethan Lawczynski, have six wins in 14 games, and are on a four-game winning streak.

The Rebels earned victories over Nelson, Grand Forks, Golden and Beaver Valley. 

Griffen Ryden had seven goals in four games, while Nathan Dann had three goals and six points in four games. Ryden now has 13 goals in 12 games, while Dann is second in team scoring with 13 points in 14 games.

Lawczynski was named the KIJHL’s first star for earning three wins to go with a 1.67 goals against average and .948 save percentage.

The Castlegar product earned three wins for his hometown team against the Nelson Leafs, Grand Forks Border Bruins and Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

Along with going 3-0, Lawczynski stopped 91 of 96 shots for a .948 save percentage and a 1.67 goals against average. Lawczynski had a 36-save performance against the Leafs and 31 versus the Nitehawks. 

Injuries, suspensions hamper Border Bruins

Winless in 13 games, it’s been a struggle for the Grand Forks Border Bruins as they have only played one game with a full roster. Injuries and suspension have prevented Head Coach and GM Dave Hnatiuk from working with a full group.

“I give the guys a lot of credit, they are working hard,” says Hnatiuk, whose group has had three lopsided losses on the season, the last coming on Tuesday, 8-0 to Nelson. “Some things are going well. Our PK is still second in the league at 89.4 per cent. Our goalies are both over 90 percent save percentage.”

Tuesday’s loss put Justin Dueck’s percentage at .895, while Ethan Shebansky has a .916 save percentage. 

Hnatiuk says his new captain Ray Warrack has been playing well lately. With five goals and 11 points in 12 games, Warrack has three points in his last four games. Warrack was promoted to captain following the trade of Nick Morin to Kelowna.

“He has taken a leadership role and he’s running with it,” says Hnatiuk. “He has introduced some community work, and each week the team goes out for an hour and they pick up garbage in town and they are coming up with different ideas to do their own thing.”