Leafs play waiting game as Grand Forks, Spokane battle it out for final Murdoch playoff spot
After recently clinching the Murdoch Division regular season title, the Nelson Leafs continue to wait for its first opponent in the upcoming Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs.
The Spokane Braves keep on breathing as the hockey club searches for that final playoff spot in the Murdoch Division.
Tuesday, in Fruitvale, the Braves kept their hopes alive with a 5-4 overtime victory over the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
The win moved the Braves to within four points of fourth-place Grand Forks Border Bruins with the teams meeting in the Boundary City Friday.
“We don’t really care which team, either Grand Forks or Spokane, we play in the playoffs,” said Leaf head coach Mario DiBella.
“We’ve had pretty good success against both teams looking forward to the playoffs.”
A win or a tie Friday by the Bruins gives Grand Forks the final playoff spot in the division.
However, as DiBella sees it, don’t count out the Braves.
“Spokane got off to a rough start in the season but now have some players back and are definitely a different team now,” DiBella said as the Leafs look to close out the season beginning tonight in Castlegar against the Rebels.
Nelson concludes the season Saturday in Fruitvale against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
DiBella suggested fans may see a few affiliates in the Leafs lineup from the Kootenay Ice of the BC Major Midget Hockey League as the coaching staff decides to give a few of the players.
“We’ll be judging who needs to be rested,” DiBella explained. “Most likely (Leaf captain) Sawyer Hunt and possibly Ryan Cooper will be out of the lineup.”
Also missing is forward Jack Karran who suffered a lower body injury in early February.
DiBella said Karran has done exceptionally well in rehabbing the injury and should be ready when Nelson opens the playoffs Friday, February 23rd at the NDCC Arena.
Top netminder in KI to watch
DiBella also said that a likely candidate for the KIJHL’s Most Valuable Player Award, Nelson netminder Josh Williams, will also not play this weekend opening the door for backup Caiden Kreitz to man the nets.
However, Nelson will not see much of a drop off in goal as Kreitz has posted an impressive 6-0 record since arriving from Calgary before the New Year.
Williams concludes the regular season on top of the KI goalie stats parade with an impressive 1.86 goals against average, 20 wins in 26 attempts as well as the lead in shutouts.
Sam Kitch, Autism big winners during Leafs awareness campaign
Sam Kitch was winner of the autographed Vancouver Canucks jersey during the Nelson Leafs Autism Awareness Campaign.
However, the real winner was the campaign itself as the Leafs accomplished what they set out in bringing more awareness to the neurodevelopmental disorder during a recent five-game KIJHL home stand at the NDCC Arena.
Hunt captures Leafs scoring title
Despite not playing, Leafs Sawyer Hunt will capture the team scoring title as the Nelson Minor Hockey grad holds a 14 points advantage over Ryan Cooper. Hunt claimed the title by being Nelson’s most consistent point getter this season with point streaks of 14, six and four games.
Cooper, with 21 goals, is two ahead of teammate Ryan Piva for most goals on the team.