Grand Forks lost two games at home over the weekend to finish the season in fourth place. This results in a first round series against Beaver Valley Nitehawks – what some might label as a “David and Goliath” scenario for the Bruins.
Beaver Valley is the number one team in the 20-team league, completing the regular season with 79 points. However, Grand Forks has been competitive in the eight-game season series between the two teams, with two wins and a tie, and one of the team’s losses was in overtime.
Fans might wonder how the Bruins are mentally, after dropping their final four games of the year. One point in any of those games would have given them a third place finish, avoiding the Beaver Valley juggernaut.
The first game of the weekend on Friday saw the Bruins play an excellent first period against long-time rivals, the Castlegar Rebels. The only goal of the period was scored by Reese Tambellini, his seventh of the season. This may have been the 16-year-old’s best game of the year. The turning point of the game came in the second period when the Rebels’ Shawn Campbell scored shorthanded to tie the game. Campbell would then add his 15th goal of the season a mere three minutes later.
Entering the last period Grand Forks was still very much in the game. Outshooting the Rebels 29-12, they were unfortunate not to have the lead in the game. However the third period was a disaster as Castlegar scored five goals to make the final 7-1 defeat.
The next night the Bruins faced another division rival, the Nelson Leafs, in a battle for third place in the division standings. The Leafs’ Alex Meeker gave his team a 1-0 lead going into the middle period after a Bears’ defensive error in front of their net.
Nelson’s Logan Wullum capitalized on another mistake by the Bruins early in the second to score, with the team promptly grabbing a three-goal lead with a power play marker. Bruins Trey Mason and Jordan Robertson pulled off goals in the third but it was too little, too late for the hometown team. Mason’s goal was his 26th of the year, the most by a Bruins’ player since Connor Gross scored 32 in the 2013-14 season.
Now the post-season begins as the Border Bruins head to the playoffs for the second year in a row. They are the distinct underdogs in the competition, and many would envisage them being swept in four games in the best-of-seven series.
The Nitehawks are a well-balanced group, illustrated in the team’s final season statistics. Despite scoring the third-most goals in the KIJHL as a team, their top-scoring player, Tyler Hartman, is only 20th in the league. Somewhat surprisingly there is not a 20 goal scorer on the team, however they do have 12 players scoring in the double digits. Those statistics point to a team that is composed of well-rounded players who work together to achieve results.
The Nitehawks have had great success working power plays in their favour, scoring 63 goals with their man advantage – second in the league on this front, behind Osoyoos. The message here for the Bruins is clear: stay out of the penalty box!
Arguably, the Nitehawks have the best goaltender in the league. Tallon Kramer, a native of Grand Prairie, Alta., owns an impressive goals against average (an average calculation of the number of goals a goalie has allowed by the number of minutes played, multiplied by 60) of 1.69. For comparison, the Bruins’ Anthony Galliart has a goals against average of 3.88 and Tyler Loura and Ross King have averages of 4.18 and 4.42 respectively.
On Sunday, the Bruins presented their player awards, recognizing the outstanding talent of the team this year. Making the matchup against the Nitehawks more difficult, newly minted Most Valuable Player Dylan Haney, as well as Top Rookie Brady Berger are out of the lineup with suspensions. Berger has one game remaining and Haney, unless it is overturned, will miss the first three games of the playoffs.
The best of seven series begins in Fruitvale with games this Friday and Saturday. It then moves to Grand Forks for contests on Monday and Tuesday. If necessary the series would resume in Fruitvale on Thursday, March 2.
The Border Bruins presented their player awards at the team banquet last Sunday.
Top Rookie – Brady Berger
Most Sportsmanlike – Connor Brennan
Players Choice Award – Donte Nowell
Scoring Leader – Trey Mason
Top Defenceman – Rylan Smaha-Muir
Perseverance and Dedication – Shayne Pluto
Most Improved Player – Noah Lemoine
Most Valuable Player – Dylan Haney