Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams are now ready to make the annual mad dash to the regular season finish line following the flip of the calendar to 2019.
The Nelson Leafs look poised to make a run at its second Murdoch Division title after bouncing back from a two-game losing streak entering the Christmas break to claim three consecutive wins — two coming during the KIJHL Showcase Weekend in Kamloops.
Bolstered by the return of the KIJHL’s top goalie Caiden Kreitz, the Nelson Leafs swept both games at the KIJHL Showcase Weekend in Kamloops.
Kreitz, who has been out of the lineup since October with an undisclosed upper body injury, backstopped the Leafs to wins over Kamloops Storm 5-4, and Princeton Posse 2-1.
Nelson and Kreitz made it three straight earlier this week, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to knock off Birks Division leading Grizzlies 5-2 in Revelstoke.
The recent win streak keeps the Leafs five points in front of the charging Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
The teams begin 2019 with a Murdoch Showdown Friday at the NDCC Arean in Nelson. Game time is 7 p.m.
Showcase Weekend liked by all
The Showcase Weekend, the first of its kind for the KIJHL, gathered all 20-teams in Kamloops to play regular season games in front of college scouts from across Canada and the United States.
“The few scouts I talked to in Kamloops really liked the event,” said KIJHL President Larry Martel, adding it’s still too early to give a proper evaluation of the event. “They did have a couple of suggestions to make it better. I think all the teams/players/coaches/fans enjoyed the tournament overall.”
“It was lots of work for the Showcase committee, but I’ve heard they would like to do it again in Kamloops,” Martel added.
Martel said Christmas may not be the best time of the season for all teams, but it’s probably the only time of the year US College scouts can get away from their teams as players cannot practice during the holidays and exams.
“One scout I talked to from Michigan had been to four showcases from Tampa Florida to Kamloops in the past three weeks,” Martel explained. “It’s a very busy recruiting time.”
“All were impressed with the talent level in the KIJHL and would love to come back,” he added. “Getting to Kamloops wasn’t the easiest connection point but they really liked the city and set up once there. Many had never been to this part of Canada before.”
Martel admitted it’s difficult to get 100 percent consensus by KIJHL Governors on most matters, so the jury remains out on any future similar events.
However, the KIJHL is committed to be part of the BC Hockey League Showcase in September as the Junior A league looks to promote all team in BC.
“I’ll be meeting with the BCHL,VIJHL and PJHL on what format works for our participation,” Martel said. “That event gets 180 college scouts, our showcase was estimating 25 for our first ever event.”
Leaf Captain on sidelines for Murdoch Showdown
Nelson will be without the services of captain Jack Karran for Friday’s tilt against Beaver Valley.
Karran was whistled for his third kneeing infraction costing the Grand Prairie native a two-game suspension.
Karran, Nelson’s leading scorer, sat out Monday’s victory over Revelstoke. He’s set to return to the lineup for Saturday’s game in Castlegar against the Rebels.
December concludes on winning note
The recent winning streak allow Nelson to conclude December with a winning 5-3 record.
Nelson has 16 games remaining on the schedule — eight at home and eight on the road. Nine of those games are against Murdoch Division opponents as the Leafs look to lock up the its second consecutive title and home ice advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.