By Gerry Foster
The Grand Forks Border Bruins have been swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. It was a disappointing end to the season for our local junior hockey team.
The Bruins seemed to be in a good place after completing the regular schedule with an inspiring four game winning streak, which included an impressive 4-1 win over the Nelson Leafs, the defending Neil Murdoch Division champions. In the process they finished in third place, their 21 regular season wins being the second-most in at least 14 years.
The turning point of the series arguably was the opening game in Beaver Valley last Wednesday. The Nitehawks, playing in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd, stunned the Bruins with three goals in the first 20 minutes. Impressively Grand Forks stormed back to tie the game in the middle period on two goals by their leading goal scorer Josh Garlough-Bell, and a single marker by Captain Evan Gorman.
Bradley Ross scored early in the third with his second goal of the game, giving the home team a 4-3 lead. The Bears played with determination and their efforts paid off when Zane Avery, with six minutes remaining in the game, tied the score.
The teams headed into a sudden death overtime period; after 10 minutes the score remained deadlocked. Following a 20 minute intermission the tense battle continued. Early in the second overtime, Jared Stocks ended it and the Hawks skated off with a 1-0 series lead. It was a heartbreaking defeat from which the Border Bruins would never recover.
An unfortunate incident earlier in the game occurred when Bruins’ Nathan Cohen-Wallis crashed awkwardly into the boards after being checkedby a Beaver Valley player. He left the game and would not return. Regrettably, we would find out later that he suffered a broken ankle.
This was devastating to the team, as Nathan was their second-leading scorer with 24 goals under his belt. The next night Beaver Valley, on home ice again, took a 2-1 lead into the second period before the flood gates opened. The home team tallied five consecutive goals to take a commanding 7-1 lead before defenceman Logan Hascarl, who has logged more games in a Bruins uniform that any other player, scored what would be his last goal in a lengthy junior career.
The Hawks completed the 10-4 rout, outscoring Grand Forks 3-2 in the final stanza. Garlough-Bell with his second of the game, and Zane Avery, netted third period goals for the Bruins.
The Bruins lost two more forwards during the second game of the series. Jake Huculak received a two game suspension, and teammate Keaghan Holub one game. Skinner’s suspension was for a check to the head, which carries an automatic game misconduct, and a subsequent suspension. It’s a bit ironic, as Huculak is one of the least-penalized players on the team, with only 18 minutes for the entire year prior to the playoffs. In addition, he finished the regular season with three goals and four assists in his last four games, his best offensive stretch of the year.
The shorthanded Border Bruins hosted the next two games of the series. Home ice often makes a difference, yet in reality the team, with the loss of Cohen-Wallis, and the subsequent suspensions of Jake Huculak and Keaghan Holub, was facing a daunting task.
The third game was played at the Jack Goddard Arena before the largest crowd of the year. After a scoreless first period Michael Hagen with a power play goal and Bradley Ross with a shorthanded marker, was all the scoring the visitors needed in the 2-0 win. Nitehawks goalie, Noah Decottignies, recorded the shutout but was rarely tested, facing only 20 shots. This was the first time the Bruins were blanked all season.
Facing elimination the next night the Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead with shorthanded goal by Alex Skinner and a power play marker from Yoan Rodrigue. Unable to sustain this start, the Bruins would allow six consecutive goals. They simply did not have an answer for the speed of this Beaver Valley team nor their stout defensive play.
The Border Bruins, under new head coach, John Clewlow, had their ups and downs this season, yet the team’s 21 wins are encouraging. Individually, defenceman Evan Gorman set an all-time team record with 18 goals, as well as points with 41. His goal production was the highest among defenceman in the KIJHL. Rookie Josh Garlough-Bell scored 30 goals, second all-time for the Bruins. And his .811 goals per game was the fifth-highest ratio in the league. Sean Avery set a Bruins single season record with 44 assists, which was also sixth best in the league.