After an outstanding weekend, the Castlegar Rebels were brought back to earth Tuesday night with a 5-3 loss to the Nelson Leafs.
What was a six-game winning streak for Castlegar’s KIJHL club is now a thing of the past, though the team remains solidly atop the Neil Murdoch division with a 34-7 record.
The week’s action began Friday, as Castlegar posted a 4-1 victory in Spokane.
Tyler Jones’ power-play goal broke a 1-1 tie with 4:18 remaining in the second period, a lead that was increased with two third-period goals 31 seconds apart by Stuart Walton and Anthony DeLong.
Diego Bartlett also scored for Castlegar while Braves all-star Rance Hughes had the only reply for the home side, scoring on a breakaway late in the opening frame.
Alex Ross made 28 saves between the pipes for the Rebels, while Braves goaltender Garrett Barr stopped 31 shots at the other end in a possible playoff preview.
The Rebels continued their momentum Saturday at home.
DeLong found the back of the net three times, twice while short-handed, as Castlegar pounded Kelowna 8-3.
The visitors hit the scoreboard first 2:31 into the game on a terrific solo effort by 17-year-old Tanner Clarkson. He dodged a Rebel defenceman at the line before snapping a shot high on goaltender Cole Buckley, who was making his first home start since being acquired from Kimberley in December.
“I had to get the jitters out in the first period,” the Penticton product admitted, “other than that I just tried to stay aggressive and battle.”
Tyler Robinson and DeLong would give the Rebels a 2-1 edge through 20 minutes, before captain Taylor Anderson roofed one of his own early in the second.
The teams traded two goals apiece through the rest of the middle frame, with Kelowna scoring twice on separate 5-on-3 power plays. Frustration then set in for the visitors.
Multiple penalties, including a costly double-minor from Jeremy Wiebe allowed Robinson, Erik Wentzel and Mike Wiest to score goals 1:37 apart, chasing Chiefs goaltender Jordan Bytelaar in the process.
But despite the momentum gained from a weekend of wins, Castlegar had trouble with a hard-working, aggressive Leafs squad in Nelson Tuesday.
Dustin Johnson’s long wrist shot 26 seconds into the third period stood as the game-winner as Nelson snapped its losing streak against the Rebels with a hard-earned 5-3 win.
Johnson, a 20-year-old who arrived in Nelson earlier this month, now has eight goals in nine appearances with the Leafs after scoring 37 times last season with the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials.
The Rebels played catch-up all night, falling behind 2-0 in the first period thanks to a power-play goal from Braeden Hikichi and a pretty two-on-one play finished off by Colton Schell.
Walton and Wentzel would draw the Rebels level before the end of the first before Cody Abbey tapped a rebound past Ross for the second period’s only goal.
After Johnson started the third frame with a bang, the Rebels clawed back thanks to leading scorer Wiest.
The 20-year-old from Alberta stole a breakout pass and snapped a shot past Leafs goaltender Marcus Beesley, who stopped 15 of 18 Rebel shots on the night.
Castlegar was visibly frustrated for much of the game: they mustered only seven shots on goal in the final 40 minutes, and were stymied on all five of their power-play attempts.
“We know Tarasoff has a big shot from the point,” Abbey said after the game, “the other thing we focused on was the back-door pass to Aynsley. We played an aggressive penalty kill and it seemed to work.”
Castlegar still holds a 5-1 season series lead on the Leafs.
The team won’t have long to dwell on a disappointing night, as they open up a three-game weekend Friday in Kimberley. Castlegar returns home Saturday night to face the Princeton Posse.
Chris Wahl is a news reporter at Mountain FM who’s covering the Rebels for the Castlegar News this season.
He’s also the play-by-play voice of the Rebels webcasts on KIJHL.ca.
For more on the Rebels, check out Chris’ blog at: off-the-wahl.blogspot.com