Leafs get off the snide against Rebels, edge Murdoch leaders 5-3
By Bruce Fuhr
The Nelson Daily Sports
It took six games and almost the entire season for the Nelson Leafs to get finally get the upper hand, albeit for one night, in the ongoing rivalry against the Castlegar Rebels.
The Leafs shook off two-minute slide late in the first period, out scoring the Murdoch Division leaders 3-1 during the final 40 minutes en route to a 5-3 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League victory Tuesday night at the NDCC Arena.
“I wasn’t here last year to know the history between these two teams, but I think we’ve been lucky in some games and got out to good starts,” said Rebel skipper Steven Junker when asked why Castlegar has been able to dominate the Leafs this season.
“We know there’s a big rivalry there and we know (Nelson) is a good team so I think we’re probably fortunate to get some of our wins.”
It looked as if Lady Luck would once against flow the way of the Rebels Tuesday.
After Nelson had played one of its best first periods of the season, to the 18-minute mark, Castlegar exploded for two goals in the final two minutes of the contest.
Stuart Walton tucked a centering pass past Marcus Beesley in the Nelson nets before Erik Wentzel drilled a centering pass from Jamie Vlanich to square the teams at 2-2.
However, the Leafs didn’t panic against the heavily favoured Rebels on this night.
Nelson returned to its workmanlike game plan and was rewarded with Cody Abbey combined with Joel Stewart midway through the period giving Nelson a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Leafs new-found sniper Dustin Johnson gave the home side some breathing room early in the third with a goal at 26 seconds of the frame.
Mike Wiest brought the Rebels to within a goal with plenty of time remaining in the game.
But, despite Nelson giving two chances on the power play, the Leafs prevailed as Colton Malmsten added an empty net marker.
Nelson out shot the Rebels 21-18 with Beesley winning the duel against Alex Ross in the Castlegar nets.
The Leafs take to the road Friday, traveling to Spokane to face the Braves. Nelson leads Spokane by 10 points in the race for third in the Murdoch Division.
Despite losing, first-place Castlegar still holds a commanding 13-point advantage over Beaver Valley.
BLUELINES: The Leafs managed to hold Rebel sniper Ryan Aynsley off the score sheet Tuesday. A key may have been the play of Leaf captain Taylor O’Neil who continually pounded the Castlegar forward at every opportunity, especially in the opening period. Aynsley, who had a brief stint with Trail of the B.C. Hockey League, decided to return to the Rebels prior to the January 10th trading deadline. . . .Braeden Hikichi, with goal number six, and Colton Schell, potting his 17th of the season, scored in the opening frame for Nelson. . . .Joel Stewart is quickly becoming the go-to guy for the Leafs scoring in seven of this past eight games. . . .The win snapped a brief two-game losing streak for Nelson. Castlegar had won six straight games heading into Tuesday. . . .Nelson traditionally plays its mid-week games Wednesday, but were pushed up a day due to the Colas Cup men’s hockey tournament. More than 300 players from Canada and the United States are in Nelson for the mid-week event.