The weekend began with the Nelson Leafs taking a step backwards.
However, once the final buzzer sounded in Fruitvale Saturday night, it was evident the Green and White had bounced back from the albeit, brief, setback to return to form as the top team in the Murdoch Division.
Nelson posted consecutive Kootenay International Junior Hockey League wins over rivals Castlegar Rebels (6-3) and Beaver Valley Nitehawks (3-0) to regain sole possession of top spot in the Murdoch Division.
The wins come after Nelson was penalized two points for using an ineligible player during the September 28th contest against the Rebels. Head coach Mario DiBella was also suspended for one game — missing Friday’s victory over Castlegar at the NDCC Arena.
“Upon completion of the (September 28th) game the coaching staff for Castlegar Rebels noticed the error and notified KIJHL Administration on Sunday Sept 30,” KIJHL president Larry Martel told The Nelson Daily.
“Andrew Carr, VP Neil Murdoch division, investigated the complaint and because the roster wasn’t checked prior to playing the game the Nelson Leafs were found in breach of Section 30.”
“The player would have been approved if the roster was checked and a call to the BC Hockey Junior carding hotline was made. It is a paperwork issue, nothing else,” Martel added.
On the ice the Leafs overcame a slow start Friday to double the Rebels at home. After being outshot in the opening frame, and relying on goalie C. J. Wedenig to keep Castlegar off the scoresheet, Jack Karran scoring in the final minutes of the period to start the Leafs offence.
Karran, Josh Stypka, Cole Jensen, Kaleb Comishin and former Rebel Shawn Campbell then added goals for the Leafs which held period leads of 1-0 and 3-1. Both of Karran’s goals came on special teams with Campbell and Comishin also scoring on the power play.
Brandon Costa, Brady Daniels and Tristan Jones replied for the Rebels, which outshot Nelson 29-25. Nelson spent most of the game playing shorthanded as referee Andrew Falcone whistled the Leafs for 42 minutes in penalties.
Wedenig, stellar at times — especially when Nelson was playing shorthanded — earned his second win of the season over the Rebels.
Saturday against Beaver Valley, Nelson started fast, scoring three times in just over two minutes of play during the first period, en route to the shutout of the Hawks.
Stypka, on the power play, Campbell and Emery Neilson scored for Nelson before Caiden Kreitz took over to frustrate the Hawks.
Kreitz, named Nelson’s game star, stopped all 30 shots to register his seventh win of the season. Beaver Valley, winners of six straight before Saturday's loss, outshot Nelson 30-23 in the contest.
Nelson returns to action Friday when the club travels to Creston to meet the Thunder Cats. The Leafs then host Osoyoos Coyotes Saturday and division rival Spokane Braves Sunday in a rare afternoon contest at the NDCC Arena.
ICE CHIPS: The weekend was the first action for Leafs sniper Shawn Campbell. Traded to Nelson during the offseason from Castlegar, the former Rebel looked to be in fine form afer spending the first month of the season on the injury list, scoring twice and adding a pair of assists. . . . Nelson was missing forward Keenan Crossman from the lineup during the weekend. Crossman continues to rehab an upper body injury. . . . David Sanchez, suspended for Friday’s game, was back in the lineup in Fruitvale Saturday. . . . Castlegar continues to struggle this season, having posted just two wins in nine games. Both wins have come after North Okanagan and Nelson were penalized for using ineligible players. . . . The Leafs lead second place Beaver Valley by two points and third-place Spokane Braves by four in Murdoch Division standings.