The Nelson Leafs opened the New Year just like they closed the last year — with a win over the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
Nicholas Wihak scored the winner in the third period and newcomer Caiden Kreitz stopped 28 of 29 shots to spark the Leafs to a 2-1 road victory over the Hawks Friday night in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action.
The win, coupled with the Spokane Braves 3-1 upset of the Castlegar Rebels, moves Nelson to within a point of top spot in the Murdoch Division.
Similar to the New Year’s Eve clash in Nelson, won 2-0 by the Leafs, the teams battled like heavyweight fighters through the opening 29-plus minutes of the game before anyone landed a significant blow.
Justin Podgorenko broke the ice with he beat Liam Coulter in the Beaver Valley nets for the game’s first goal.
Wihak, scoring his sixth of the season late in the third period, gave Nelson some insurance late in the frame.
However, Damon Kramer was snap Beaver Valley’s goalless streak of more than five periods against the Leafs, beating Kreitz less than two minutes later.
But that would be the only marker Kreitz, who arrived in Nelson from Alberta Junior Hockey League Calgary Canucks, would surrender as Nelson escape the Hawks’ Nest with a rare victory.
Beaver Valley finished the game out shooting Nelson 29-24.
Nelson faces another big test Saturday when the Leafs host the red-hot Kimberley Dynamiters at 7 p.m. in the NDCC Arena.
The Nitros, leaders of the Eddie Mountain Division with a nine-point advantage over Creston, enter the game having won nine straight games.
Meanwhile, Beaver Valley is out to snap a two-game slide Saturday in Castlegar.
ICE CHIPS: Friday’s results allow Nelson and Castlegar to clinch playoff berths. Other teams booking post season tickets include Kimberley, Creston, Revelstoke and Chase. . . .Nicholas Wihak was named Game Star for Nelson while Karsten Jang earned the honour for the Hawks. . . .Paxton Malone scored the winner late in the third period, snapping a 1-1 tie, to lift Spokane past Castlegar and halt the Rebels double-digit (14 game) winning streak. The last time Castlegar lost was November 12 against Nelson.