By Gerry Foster
It was arguably the Grand Forks Border Bruins most significant victory of the season when they defeated the Castlegar Rebels 6-2 at home last Friday.
Success has been in short supply for this team in the second half of the season. Their tenuous hold on the last playoff spot was in jeopardy. The Bruins’ win maintained their five point cushion for the final post season berth. It was the second of a trio of games in three nights, and one their fans will remember for a long time.
After a scoreless first period a Riley Smoler power play goal early in the second gave the Bruins the lead. Castlegar responded with power play goals from Vince Bitonti and John Moeller late in the period.
This set the stage for the Border Bruins most memorable 20 minutes of the season. They exploded for five unanswered goals to skate off with a convincing 6-2 win. Nathan Cohen-Wallis tied the game and Zane Avery notched what proved to be the winner, both with the extra man. Then Briar Whyte, with his first of two goals, sent the 400 fans into ecstasy, with an unassisted, shorthanded marker. Suddenly in the span of less than three minutes the Border Bruins now held a 4-2 lead. The team continued to pour it on, resulting in Smoler’s second of the game; Whyte then made it 6-2.
Following the game, winning goaltender Quinn Yeager, said, “It was a huge win for us!” He complimented the players in front of him stating, “A lot of guys were blocking shots and they kept the shots to the outside.” In reference to this impressive win over Castlegar and the narrow 2-1 loss the night before – on the road against Beaver Valley, Quinn remarked, “it shows we can compete.”
In the contest the previous evening in Fruitvale against the Nitehawks, the Border Bruins opened the scoring late in the first period on a goal by Zane Avery, with assists going to Briar Whyte and Max Lozeman. The Bruins, once again behind the solid goaltending of Yeager, held this slim one goal margin until the ninth minute of the third period. Tommie McConnachie tied the game but a costly tripping penalty to Bruins’ Cole Kapak, resulted in the winning goal off the stick of Sam Swanson.
Owen Sikkes, in the net for the Nitehawks, was playing his first game since Dec. 17. His goals against average is a sparkling 2.19. Grand Forks was very much in this game, and it was unfortunate not to come away with at least a point in the standings.
Their third game in three nights was the low point of the weekend as they dropped a 7-4 decision in Castlegar. Obviously the Rebels were in a nasty mood after losing to the Bears the night before. In my post-game conversation with Quinn Yeager after the 6-2 win he remarked, “We’ll have to bring it harder tomorrow night.” This piece of advice did not register with his teammates. After a penalty filled opening frame which ended with a one goal lead for Castlegar, the home squad exploded for five goals in the second period, just as Grand Forks did in the third period the previous night at home.
The Bruins’ were assessed a troika of 10 minute misconduct penalties in the first period. Although they escaped that opening frame, down only a goal, having three of their forwards sit for 10 minutes in the ‘sin bin’ may have upset their rhythm for the rest of the game.
Scoring goals for the Bruins were Avery, Whyte, Smoler and Trey Mason. Ross King started in goal for Grand Forks and was replaced by Yeager after the fifth Rebels goal.
The Border Bruins led Spokane by five points for the final playoff spot. Spokane has four games remaining and the Bruins have three, including a game this Friday in Nelson, followed by a home encounter with Beaver Valley on Saturday.