Sports

Nitehawks deny host Pilots in Keystone Cup final

Beaver Valley Nitehawks captain Archie McKinnon hoists the Keystone Cup, emblematic of Western Canadian junior B hockey supremacy. - John Morrow photo
Beaver Valley Nitehawks captain Archie McKinnon hoists the Keystone Cup, emblematic of Western Canadian junior B hockey supremacy.
— image credit: John Morrow photo

To win a championship, you need to be able to absorb your opponent's best shot and keeping pressing forward.

That's exactly what the Beaver Valley Nitehawks did on Sunday afternoon, as they beat the host Abbotsford Pilots 5-1 in the Keystone Cup title game.

The Pilots, seeking their second Western Canadian junior B hockey championship in three seasons, began the contest with a purpose – they'd lost 10-2 to Beaver Valley in their opening game of the round robin, and were driven to give a better account of themselves.

Playing before a near-capacity crowd at Abbotsford Recreation Centre, they started like they'd been shot out of a cannon, hitting everything that moved. Forward Brady Lawlor, in particular, was a heat-seeking missile, dishing out punishment on every shift.

But the Nitehawks persisted – after a scoreless opening frame, they struck twice in the second, then pulled away in the third to clinch the gold.

"It wasn't a lack of effort on our part," noted Pilots forward Jarrett Martin, who scored his team's lone goal. "We gave it our all, it was just some bad bounces. They're a good, skilled team – any time you mess up, it's in the back of your net."

The pace and physicality in the first period were exceptional, and both goalies came up with some terrific saves to keep it scoreless.

Nitehawks netminder Brett Clark stoned Martin on a breakaway, and at the other end, his Pilots counterpart William Latimer came up with a sensational series of stops as Beaver Valley buzzed around his net during a power play.

The Nitehawks broke the ice at 4:04 of the second, as Braden Fuller stole the puck from Abby blueliner Ryan Parmar and shovelled it to Sam Swanson, who beat Latimer with a high blocker-side wrist shot.

Lawlor had a couple of excellent chances to knot the score, but Clark stoned him on a one-timer from the hashmarks, and he missed the net on a breakaway later on.

Beaver Valley doubled the lead on a Taylor Stafford goal – Latimer made a tremendous save on Dallas Calvin on a two-on-one break, but Calvin tracked down the puck along the end boards and threw it out front to Stafford, who wristed it into the open net with Latimer down and out.

The Nitehawks boosted the lead to 5-0 in the third, as Riley Brandt scored off another Pilots' D-zone turnover, Keanan Patershuk converted on a shorthanded breakaway, and Fraser Stang's point shot found its way in through a crowd.

Martin got Abby on the board with 2:59 left, whacking home a rebound to spoil Clark's shutout bid.

Clark earned tournament MVP honours, though – he finished with 32 saves in the final, and posted a 1.00 goals against average and a .962 save percentage over the course of four starts this week.

"I thought today, we really played our best game," Nitehawks head coach Terry Jones enthused. "To win a championship, what can you say? It's what you search for from the beginning of the year.

"We knew it was going to be tough – we knew they were going to be a lot different from the first game. We just wanted to get our feet moving with our forecheck game and play in the offensive zone. When we play in the offensive zone, we're a good team."

The Nitehawks are based in Fruitvale, B.C. – in the West Kootenays, near Trail – and won the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) title and the B.C. provincial championship en route to the Keystone Cup. Alumni of the program include NHL players Adam Deadmarsh and Barret Jackman.

"Our 20-year-old guys . . . are just super-solid men who led these guys through thick and thin," Jones said. "A lot of them have been with me for two or three years, and when you have that kind of closeness with guys, you want to see them successful.

"We have over half our team from the Trail area. It's a great hockey town, and these guys really bought into what we were talking about on and off the ice. It makes it special."

In addition to Clark's MVP award, Calvin took home the top forward prize after leading the tourney in scoring (six goals and eight assists in six games).

The top defenceman award went to Abbotsford's Austin Edwards.

Pilots coach Jim Cowden expressed pride in his team's effort.

"I thought we played extremely well," he said. "But they got the breaks, and they capitalized on them.

"They (the Nitehawks) are a good team, and you've got to take your hat off to them. They play hard, they play for keeps, and they battle."

The Blackfalds Wranglers claimed the bronze medal, edging the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks 4-3 behind two goals from Trent Hermary.

Pilots owner/general manager Jack Goeson was pleased with how the tournament was received and with the contributions from his small army of volunteers.

"It went really well," he said. "We got lots of good comments about our hospitality and how it was run."

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