Nelson received scoring from an unlikely source as defenceman Patrick Croome had three helpers to lead the short-staffed Leafs to a 6-3 victory over Sicamous Eagles in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action Sunday afternoon at the NDCC Arena.
Croome led a Nelson team that was missing two key defenceman and team leaders, Robson Cramer and Darnel St. Pierrie, both out of the lineup due to suspension.
“Coming out with a short bench we knew this was going to be tough, but it was awesome the way we were able to come out in the second and take control,” said Leaf captain Aaron Dunlap following the game.
“Not only half of our defensive core was gone, but we were also missing a line so we were down to nine forwards,” Dunlap added.
“We had a lot of guys injured but we were able to battle through and it showed out on the ice because no one was an individual out there . . . everyone was working as a team.”
Not only did Nelson suffer its first regulation loss of the season Friday, a 4-2 setback to Kimberley Dynamiters at home, but the Leafs also lost Cramer and St. Pierre in the process to suspension.
Cramer was whistled for a checking-from-behind penalty in the final 10 minutes of the game — an infraction that carries with it a 10-minute misconduct and a one-game suspension.
Meanwhile St. Pierre was hit with another checking-to-the-head penalty. The infraction cost the heavy hitter a two-game suspension due to an accumulation of head infractions.
The loss of two veterans saw the versatile Blair Andrews move back to the blueline to help the defensive core.
The move didn’t pay early dividends as two giveaways by Leaf players led to a 2-0 lead for the visiting Eagles after 20 minutes on goals by Nathan Piessis and Tyson Taylor.
However, in the second period Croome & Company were able to take advantage to mental errors by the Eagles to pump in six consecutive goals — three coming in the opening five minutes of the frame take a 6-2 lead into the second intermission.
Sicamous, a team that opened witih eight shots in the first frame, was held to just four in the second period as Nelson outshot the visitors 26-4.
“We knew we had to score the first goal in the second . . . it was huge for us,” said Dunlap, who was convinced by Leaf new coach Dave McLellan to return to the team before training camp.
“If they would have scored . . .. Being down 2-0 we were kind of down on ourselves. But we were able to come in to the room, regroup and were able to take it to them in the second.”
Matt MacDonald and Jay Sidhu, each with a pair, Austin Lindsay and Cody Paivarinta, scored for Nelson.
Dunlap said Sicamous gave the Leafs life by taking so many penalties in the second frame.
“We’ve got a new power play system for us this year and it’s working really well for us,” said Dunlap.
In the third the Leafs held the fort, even though Eagles’ forward Korwin Shewchuk was able to score once on goalie Adam Maida, who had a bounce back game between the pipes for Nelson.
The strong second period gave Nelson the edge on shots, 40-23 and a win for Maida in the Leaf nets.
LEAF NOTES: Nelson dressed 15 players for Sunday's contest. . . .The offensive performance of Patrick Croome earned the rearguard Nelson's Player-of-the-game honours. — Despite the weekend split, Nelson, 4-1-1-1, maintains a one-point advantage in Murdoch Division standings over Spokane Braves. Spokane split in a weekend series against Grand Forks. The Bruins won 3-0 Friday in the Boundary City before Spokane won the rematch 8-0 at home Sunday. Sicamous defeated Spokane 3-2 Saturday in Spokane. . . .The three points by Croome (three goals, five assists) moves the Calgary native into second spot in Leaf scoring, one point behind Rayce Miller (five goals, four assists). . . . Nelson, 3-1-1-1, completes its home stand Friday against Chase at the NDCC Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.