By Bruce Fuhr,
The Nelson Daily Sports
It’s clear watching video of Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Fernie Ghostriders the Nelson Leafs need to make plenty of improvement before the club can even begin to think about competing with the league’s heavyweights.
Bolstered by a lineup filled with veterans ready to host the Cyclone Taylor Cup in April of 2011, the Eddie Mountain Division leaders dominated the Leafs for most of the contest to skate away with its sixth consecutive Kootenay International Junior Hockey League win of the season.
Despite losing for the fifth time in seven games, the mood in the dressing room was rather upbeat as Leaf assistant coach Jason Rushton is confident there are better days ahead.
“From the day the kids arrived (in camp) to now has been a complete 180,” said Rushton, who along with assistant Sean Dooley formed the brain trust behind the Leaf bench with skipper Chris Shaw serving a three-game suspension for using “non-approved” players.
“Even over the last week of practice we’ve seen then come together more and more,” added Rushton, who played for the Leafs during the first season of Junior A hockey in the Rocky Mountain days. “There’s more chatter on the bench. There more team camaraderie. So we’re only going to grow and we’re only going to get better.”
Saturday, the Leafs (2-5) got a taste of one of the early favourites to win it all this season. The Ghostriders, under the guidance of coach and GM Will Verner, are not in this league to develop players. The main, and only, goal of the franchise is to win.
Fernie boasts a roster of more than a dozen players in the twilight of their junior hockey careers. In contrast, Nelson, which graduated more than 15 players from last season's KIJHL finalist to college or junior A teams, is filled with players fresh from the minor hockey ranks or midget AAA.
And that roster of Riders totally dominated the Green and White for most of the game, including a spell in the opening frame that saw the visitors ring up a 12-0 score on the shot clock ticker.
“We didn’t have the greatest first period . . . and we didn’t come out as strong as we could have,” said Leaf sniper Gavin Currie, finishing the weekend with five points.
“We were thinking here comes another game where the team we’re playing is more skilled,” added Currie. “They do have a lot of veterans because they’ve been buying players since the start of the year.”
Still this was a winnable game for the Leafs.
After surviving the first period only down a goal, Nelson tied the contest with a power play marker by Tanner Burns five minutes into the second period.
Fernie regained the lead with a power play marker minutes later. But Nelson once again pulled even when Colton Schell notched his team-leading fifth goal of the season with the period winding down.
However, in the third Fernie picked up the tempo, firing shot after shot at Nelson goalie Marcus Beesley. The pressure paid dividends when a scramble in front of the Leaf net results in a penalty shot call be referee Jim Maniago.
The Trail official ruled a Nelson defenceman grabbed the puck over the crease area. Thomas Abenante, with his second of the game, converted the opportunity, drilling a low shot past Beesley.
“Our D-man tried to protect the net and his body just took over his mind,” Currie explained. “He did something I’m sure he’s feeling pretty (bad) about right now. But it’s a play he made and you have to live with those mistakes and take it in stride.”
There was a glimmer of the positive Rushton talked about Friday in Grand Forks. Nelson opened play by stomping the Border Bruins 8-3.
Currie, with four points and Schell, scoring twice, powered the Leaf attack.
Dallon Stoddart, Colton Malmsten, Riley Henderson, Marcus Dahl and Adrian Moyls also scored for the Leafs. Thompson led the Bruins with two goals while Nick Van Damme added the final marker.
The Leafs return to action Wednesday when third-place Murdoch rival, Spokane Braves invade the NDCC Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Nelson was also without the services of defenceman Raymond Reimer. The 6’4”, 205-pound rearguard was suspended for one game for receiving a game misconduct in the final ten minutes of Sunday’s 3-2 Nelson win over Penticton Lakers. Reimer missed Saturday's game due to family commitments. . .. Forward Cody Abbey and defenceman Tyler Parfeniuk also missed the weekend games due to injury.