The Beaver Valley Nitehawks captured the Kootenay International Hockey League (KIJHL) title in convincing fashion on Thursday in Chase to win their third league title in six years.
From the very start of the season, the Beaver Valley Nitehawks knew they were a team of destiny. From a healthy contingent of returning vets to a talented crop of rookies and APs, there was a quiet confidence among the players and coaching staff that the team was built to win. The Hawks went on to lose just five games, interspersed between 15- and 16-game winning streaks, and win 38.
And, as they’ve done all season, the Nitehawks got production up and down the lineup with five different scorers pitching in for the 5-2 victory over the Okanagan-Shuswap Conference champion Chase Heat to win the series in three straight games in the best-of-five final.
“It was extremely exciting,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Jeremy Cominotto. “Our guys worked hard all year, and they absolutely deserved this, but their mindset is that they’re not finished so it’s a pretty unbelievable feeling right now and we’re getting ready for the weekend.”
The KIJHL champions now compete in the provincial championship, Cyclone Taylor Cup, in Creston starting Thursday. The Hawks face off against the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League champion Campbell River Storm, the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s Aldergrove Kodiaks, and the host Creston Valley Thunder Cats of the KIJHL.
The Nitehawks won their last KIJHL championship in 2014 with Sam Swanson, Mitch Foyle, and Kyle Hope the only remaining veterans from that winning season. In an erie coincidence, both the 2014 and 2017 teams finished their seasons with the identical number of points, 80, wins, 38, ties, 1, and overtime losses, 3, despite a definite contrast in style.
“There’s similarities, but there’s a lot of differences too,” said Cominotto. “We don’t have Dallas (Calvin), Ryan (Edwards), and Dan Holland - we don’t have that kind of fire power, we do scoring by committee. We have four lines that on any given night any line can be firing, and that’s what makes this team special, it’s really hard to shut us down.”
The Hawks lost just two-of-16 games through four rounds of KIJHL playoff hockey. B.V. swept the Grand Forks Border Bruins and Nelson Leafs in four-straight games, were forced to a Game 5 series win over the Kimberley Dynamiters, then took out Chase in three straight.
Hawks veteran Tyler Hartman led the team in scoring in the playoffs with 6-11-17, followed by BV captain Sam Swanson, Dylan Heppler, and Tyler Ghirardosi - each with 16 points. However, it was a gutsy come-from-way-behind win in Game 2 against the Heat, where two goals from rookie Brad Ross and the game winner from rookie Aiden Browell (just back from injury) brought the Hawks back from a 4-1 deficit to a 5-4 victory that doused the Heat’s fire and setup the convincing Game-3 win.
Hawks coach and GM Terry Jones, was thrilled with the sweep and his team’s performance. It also enabled the longtime Hawks coach to travel to New York to watch his son Connor Jones play his first NHL game with the New York Islanders.
“So very proud of my staff and boys for all the hard work we have put in since Day 1, the details and character which have made us KI champs!” tweeted Jones following the win.
In Thursday’s Game 3 in Chase, the Hawks defence combined for the game winner when Dylan Kent scored his fourth of the playoffs and second in two games with 7:10 to play in the second period on a setup from fellow blue-liners Kevan McBean and Jake Yuris.
The game was tied 1-1 after one on goals from the Hawks’ Jaxen Gemmell and the Heat’s Cody Hodges, before the B.V. tallied four straight in the second period on goals from Blake Sidoni, Kent, Tyler Ghirardosi, and Nolan Percival to take a 5-1 lead.
“That’s the one thing that we’ve done all year,” said Cominotto. “We have a lot of depth, we run four lines, so it was typical of our team. It was a total team effort, everybody was firing, and it was probably our best series of the playoffs.”
Kaden Black scored one more for the Heat, but the Nitehawks, as they have done throughout the playoffs, shut down the Heat attack limiting Chase to just three shots on goal in the final frame. The sweep was big for the Hawks, as it gives the team a week off to prepare and recuperate for the Cyclone.
“It was pretty important (winning three straight),” said Cominotto. “I know that a lot of our guys were sick and we have a few injuries so it just gives us a little more time to rest up and get healthy.”
B.V. outshot Chase 30-22 and was perfect on the penalty kill in five Chase chances. Hawks goaltender Tallon Kramer earned the game star, with Grady Musgrave getting the nod for the Heat.
Other than Creston, Aldergrove and Campbell River are relative unknowns for the Nitehawks heading into the Cyclone Taylor. Campbell River won bronze at the Cyclone last year, when the KIJHL 100-Mile House Wranglers won it all, and gold in 2015 with a 6-5 win over Kimberley Dynamiters. In 2014 the Nitehawks defeated the Kodiaks in the gold-medal game, 5-2.
“We’re going to prepare ourselves, and just worry about ourselves, and make sure that we do everything in our power to play our game and make teams have to adjust to the way we play,” said Cominotto. “I think if we get pucks in deep, move our feet, and use our speed, we’ll force other team to make adjustments to us rather than us make adjustments to them.”
The Hawks open the Cyclone Taylor on Thursday at 3 p.m. against Campbell River at the Creston Community Complex. Beaver Valley plays Aldergrove at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, and the Thunder Cats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.