Rebels, Leafs begin what could be a long stretch of games between the two West Kootenay rivals

first_imgBy Bruce Fuhr The Nelson Daily Sports There should be no question in the minds of the Castlegar Rebels and Nelson Leafs who their respective first round opponents will be when the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs begin. The Rebels thought to have a chance at stealing away the Murdoch Division title from the front-running Beaver Valley Nitehawks after beating the Fruitvale squad four consecutive times. But the Hawks answered the bell Sunday in the Sunflower City, bouncing the Rebels 7-3 to all but end Castlegar’s stretch run to the title. So Friday in Nelson, unofficially, begins a best-of-eleven series between the two West Kootenay rivals. Of course the first four games — including this weekend’s home-and-home series starting Friday at 7 p.m. in the NDCC Arena — will be a feeling out period. The real business takes place in Castlegar in the third full week of February. “Right now we’re preparing for the playoffs,” said Leaf coach and GM, Frank Maida. “Every day is important for the players to get ready, both mentally and physically.” Of course, you know the Rebels have a little more to play for than the Leafs. Steve Junker’s crew is not mathematically out of the race for the Murdoch Division title — trailing the Hawks by nine points with nine games remaining. The Murdoch champ receives an easier first-round opponent in the Spokane Braves. Meanwhile, the Leafs will finish third in the Murdoch and travel to either Castlegar or Beaver Valley to open the playoffs. So there’s really no incentive to bust a hump before the playoffs. Right? On the contrary says Maida. “This is a big weekend for us against Castlegar and we want both games,” Maida confessed. “We want the boys to come out to play a full 60 minutes and play good hockey against Castlegar. “That’s our key, battling with them on every shift.”Ironically, Beaver Valley has had Nelson’s number this season, losing once to the Leafs. Castlegar has gotten the better of Beaver Valley, until Sunday’s game. But not lost in translation is the fact Nelson has played the Rebels tough this season, splitting the first four games. Which should make for a very interesting best-of-eleven series starting Friday in Nelson.OVERTIME: Ironically is was a Nelson native that shot the lights out of the Rebels Sunday in Castlegar as Justin Niminiken not only scored the natural hat trick but added another goal and assist in the Beaver Valley win. . . .The Leafs finally have defenceman Blake Arcuri back in the lineup after the Nelson native returned from his second major injury of the season. Arcuri played in both weekend wins for Nelson over Golden and Columbia Valley. . . . Defenceman J.J. Beitel is listed as day-to-day. . . .Leaf coach Frank Maida was pleased with the play of rookie Carsen Willans on the recent East Kootenay trip saying, “Carsen played well all weekend but had a great game Saturday (against Columbia Valley.)” . . .No doubt the Walton boys will be front and center when Nelson meets Castlegar as Stuart, leading the Rebels in scoring, goes up against Andrew, goalie for the Leafs. Stuart Walton leads Anthony Delong in Castlegar scoring but Delong has the team lead in goals with 32. . . . Nick Newman leads the Leafs in scoring but Patrick Martens is back as the go-to guy. Martens, returning from the BCHL at the roster deadline, has seven points in three games including six goals. . . .The teams return to Castlegar for game two of the series. Game time is 7:30 p.m. in the Community Complex. sports@thenelsondaily.comlast_img

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