New Nelson Leafs players got a little bit of everything in their first taste of the KIJHL.
Line brawls, a comeback goal and double overtime meant a retooled Leafs roster endured a very long, very eventful season opener Friday. The only thing they didn’t get to experience was a win.
Nelson fell 3-2 after Daniel Lindeman scored a power-play goal for the Fernie Ghostriders to end a marathon contest at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
Reid Wilson, one of just eight returning Leafs from last season’s team, said Game 1 showed his team has plenty to work on.
“But we’ve got 48 more games to go,” he said. “We’re just getting started.”
Penalties were a problem for both teams throughout the game — Fernie and Nelson combined for 299 minutes in the box — and a poorly timed one for Nelson led to the game’s end.
Leafs rookie Bryden Pow was handed a slashing penalty in double overtime, which led to Lindeman teeing up a slapshot on the power play for the win.
Wilson and Lane Goodwin scored for the Leafs (0-0-1). Carlos Siso made 22 saves after he took over for Curt Doyle early in the first period. Doyle allowed one goal on three shots.
Johnny Elias and Gavin Lawrie also scored for the Ghostriders (1-0-0), while Ethan Fitzgerald made 36 saves.
Despite having to settle for a single point, Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said he saw positives in how his young roster played.
“I like how they skated, I like how physical they were,” said DiBella. “They played with a lot of desire and heart. I think that [Fernie’s] goaltender played well. Could we have taken more shots on him? Maybe. But these are all working points that I think we’ll improve on as the season goes on.”
Fernie struck first eight minutes into the game. Leafs forward Brady Miller was serving a penalty when the Ghostriders capitalized on a rush that found Lawrie in the slot for a quick goal.
The goal led to an unusually early goaltending change for Nelson, who swapped out Doyle for rookie Siso.
DiBella said he didn’t think Doyle looked ready to play in the pre-game and was caught sleeping on the first goal.
“He didn’t seem to be in the zone tonight and I thought we’d save him for bigger and better things.”
The Leafs’ first goal of the season came from Wilson just four minutes later. Pressure in the offensive zone forced a Fernie defender to give up the puck, and Wilson’s slapshot was too fast for Fitzgerald to react to.
Discipline was in short supply as the game entered the second period.
A hard backcheck into a Leafs player just over a minute into the second period sparked a line brawl. That led to three Ghostriders and two Leafs in the box, and several other scrums peppered the first half of the period.
The period would have been otherwise uneventful thanks to some stellar saves by Siso and Fitzgerald. But it ended as it began, with players flailing on the ice as referees struggled to tear them apart. The line brawl with just 13 seconds left before the break put more players in the box and added to another long delay in play.
Wilson said when his teammates weren’t spending time in the penalty box, they showed promise on the ice.
“For the first regular season game, a bit of chemistry between everyone, I thought that was pretty good. We’ve only practised three weeks, and a couple exhibition games. That’s not bad for a first game, I thought we looked good.”
Both teams appeared to have emptied their testosterone tanks and elected to play hockey in the third period.
A miscommunication wasted several seconds of a Leafs power play early in the third. Siso held the puck behind the net and appeared to be waiting for a player to come join him. Nobody did, and Siso continued to wait. When he finally did move, he bobbled the puck and had to dive to avoid an own goal.
That meant Nelson’s power play ended, and play began again with the Leafs on the penalty kill after Shawn Grobowsky was charged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the break.
Fernie finally broke the deadlock with eight minutes left in the first period. A tripping penalty to Nelson’s Kevin Lawrance led to Ghostriders power play, and Elias converted with a sliding shot from the slot underneath Siso’s pads.
Siso owes his glove-side post a dap for saving him in the dying minutes.
Fernie’s Seamus Keith stole the puck in the neutral zone and finished off a breakaway by whipping a wrist shot that beat Siso, but not his friendly neighbourhood post.
DiBella elected to pull Siso with two minutes left, and the somewhat early move paid off. Goodwin scored his first KIJHL goal after he got a stick on the puck in the middle of a crowd on Fitzgerald’s doorstep to force overtime.
After the game, the Leafs coach recalled a WHL game when Tri-City pulled its goaltender with seven minutes left to score on Spokane. The Americans pulled the goaltender again, scored to tie and went on to win.
“I thought the gamesmanship [the coach] showed in that game was something I just put up into the reserve bank to use at some other time,” said DiBella.
Leaflets: The Leafs’ opening roster featured two rookie Nelson natives, Reid Vulcano and Joe Davidson. New Leafs captain David Sanchez (lower body) did not suit up. … Nelson next visits the Creston Valley Thundercats on Saturday. The Leafs don’t play another home game until Sept. 22 when they host a matinee against the Sicamous Eagles.