New players shine as Leafs score 4 unanswered goals to beat Knights 4-1
The storm finally feels like it’s passed over the Nelson Leafs.
In case anyone forgot, here’s what the Leafs’ final month entailed: a line brawl that made national headlines; the suspension and resignation of their head coach; five players banned for up to eight games; two players, including their top scorer, were traded away; and the arrival of a new interim head coach in Briar McNaney.
It wasn’t ideal, especially for a player like defender Tyson Lautard, who is in his final junior season. But Lautard said hockey is once again becoming the focus of a team in a season that has been a hurricane of a campaign.
“Probably like a week ago, it feels like a new normal right now,” Lautard said. “It’s been a difficult transition for everyone with the new manager and everything. We all really like briar and we’re all just starting to gel again.”
The Leafs looked calm and free of drama as they scored four unanswered goals to beat the North Okanagan Knights 4-1 on Saturday.
Lautard, Kieran Christianson, Crae Dawson and Ryan Quast scored for the Leafs (19-13-5), with Jasper Tait making 22 saves.
Grayson Williamson answered for the Knights (16-16-5) while Austin Seibel stopped 42 shots.
On Friday, the Leafs won 5-4 at Castlegar despite firing 50 shots. A night later, they dominated the Knights by playing tight defense and overtaking the visitors 47-23.
McNaney said the team reviewed their defensive mistakes after the win and the message could be heard clearly as the Leafs returned to the ice against the Knights.
“When we corrected what we were doing defensively, our offense shone and they got a lot more chances, just like the coaching staff said they would,” McNaney said. “They were rewarded for that. and they’ve earned every little piece of the scoreboard they’ve earned.”
Seibel had a bumpy start to the game. He was brought down seconds into the first half after a defender put a leaf through the Knights goaltender. It happened again less than four minutes later, prompting Josh Hager to relieve himself and stop a shot for a couple of minutes while Seibel appeared to be attending to an equipment issue.
The pressure remained on Seibel as the Leafs dominated the game with solid puck moves but couldn’t find a goal.
In the second third, the offensive of both teams broke through. The Knights survived a longer period of the Leafs’ offense and killed a penalty before defenseman Williamson scored with a point shot to make it 8:14.
But the Leafs responded less than five minutes later when Lautard’s shot from the top of the circle slipped past Seibel, a moment of relief against a keeper who had otherwise frustrated Nelson to the point.
A little over a minute into the third period, the Leafs took the lead for the first time. Carsyn Crawford found a wide open Christianson whose shot popped Seibel’s water bottle for a 2-1 advantage.
Nelson kept pushing and at one point Seibel crawls in his crease. It was a loose puck that gave the Leafs a 3-1 lead after Dawson placed a point shot under Seibel that the Knights goalie couldn’t find under him.
It was the first goals for rookies Christianson and Dawson as Leafs after being acquired by the Osoyoos Coyotes in a five-player deal.
“Nice to get the monkey off your back with the first with the boys,” Christianson said. “It’s been just great since it traded here so I’m really happy to be with this group and glad we got the W tonight.”
McNaney said the two quickly settled into their new team, which needed them while four players remain suspended.
“Usually you wait around 10-12 games before a player settles in. These guys blended in like they’d been here all season. They’ve been pretty great on and off the ice so far. And as good as they play on it, they were even better off.”
The attack of the leaves continued. A goal for Seamus Boyd was averted for an offside but shortly after Quast forced a turnover he fired a shot from up front that went over Seibel’s blocker for a 4-1 advantage.
Nelson has already guaranteed a playoff spot with seven games remaining in the season. Lautard, a 77-game veteran who helped Nelson reach the KIJHL finals last season, said one of his goals for the rest of the season is to help the team’s rookies prepare for their first postseason.
“I want the rookies to be really confident as we have so many. Just everyone sticking together and figuring out our systems better, just get together and play hard.
Leaflets: The Leaflets held a moment of silence before dropping the puck for Const. Matthew Nolet. The Nelson police officer died Saturday morning as a result of the January 9 avalanche, which also killed Det. Wade Tittemore. … Several leaves will finally get back into action in their next game on Tuesday against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. Tyler Seminoff, Leighton Partington, Hunter Sperle and Ryland Mennie served the last of their eight-game suspensions on Saturday for their role in the Dec. 31 line brawl against Beaver Valley.
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KIJHL Nelson Leafs