The Castlegar Rebels’ playoff season ended last week after looking like they might upset the Nelson Leafs in the beginning of the seven-game series.
After winning three of the first four games, the Rebels faltered and the Leafs took the remaining games in the first round of KIJHL playoff action.
The Leafs looked like a team determined to win when the puck dropped at the final game, outshooting the Rebels 8-1 through the opening 10 minutes. Nelson’s best chance came on a tipped shot by defenceman Tyson Lautard that just barely went over the crossbar.
A number of shaky shifts by the Leafs let the Rebels back into the game. The visitors put a scare into the home crowd when defenceman Tymon Sanikipoulos dangled the puck through three Leafs players and fired a shot that goaltender Tenzin Mint only managed to catch a piece of with his glove.
Nelson survived and took the game’s first lead with 1:02 left in the period. Rhett Hamilton’s shot rebounded off Lawczynski’s pads back to Gordon, who tucked the puck in.
The Rebels returned determined in the second. Their persistence paid off when Duguay’s wrist shot from the slot beat Mint top corner over the blocker to tie the game.
Castlegar had a golden opportunity to take the lead after Lautard took a penalty with just over a minute left. The Rebels put three shots on a sprawling Mint, who survived to keep the game tied heading into the third.
A terrific effort on a penalty kill by Ryan Quast restored Nelson’s lead three minutes into the final period. He knocked the puck away from the Rebels in the neutral zone, then found himself on a 2-on-1 with Gordon whose shot rebounded off Lawczynski back to Quast for the goal.
After that, the game began to fall away from the Rebels.
Nelson took a 3-1 lead after a critical mistake from Lawczynski. The Rebels goalie didn’t cover a puck near his post and allowed it to slide past him to a waiting Bennet Anklewich, who buried his shot uncontested.
Castlegar then lost forward Griffen Ryden for the remainder of the game after he checked a Leafs’ player in the head, costing the Rebels the player who scored a hat trick for them in Game 6.
Tempers flared in the final three minutes. Hamilton and Duguay got tied up and both ended up in the box, costing Castlegar another one of its snipers when the team needed goals.
As “board the bus” chants echoed out from the Nelson crowd, the Rebels pulled Lawczynski in a last-ditch effort that failed as the Leafs completed an unlikely series comeback.
Rebels’ goaltender Ethan Lawczynski turned in a series of sensational performances throughout the series that frustrated the Leafs’ offence and earned him praise from Leafs head coach Mario DiBella, a former goaltender.
“It took 16 periods for us to understand we needed to get pucks to the net and across the net on a kid who should probably have been playing in Junior A this year,” said DiBella. “Full marks to Ethan, he’s a hell of a goaltender and we wish him the absolute best going forward.”