Chad Bates flips a power play goal past Nate Glenn. Photo by Peter Kalasz (www.peterkalaszphotography.com)

Chad Bates flips a power play goal past Nate Glenn. Photo by Peter Kalasz (www.peterkalaszphotography.com)

Bruins Split The Weekend Again as Playoffs are Just a Week Away

By Kevin McKinnon

Grand Forks Border Bruins

With the KIJHL’s regular season in its final week, the Border Bruins remain just ahead at the top of their division with both the Nelson Leafs and Beaver Valley Nitehawks nipping at their heels. The Bruins were looking for a chance to clinch the top spot over the weekend while facing the Castlegar Rebels, who struggled through the season but had picked up a few important divisional wins in 2023 including one against the Bruins, and the Princeton Posse who sit in the top spot in the League.

On Friday night, the Bruins travelled for the last visit of the year to the Castlegar Community Complex. The Bears controlled the first 30 minutes of the game, with goals from Jonah Smith and Cody Quinney in the first period, and another from Maxim Lajoie five minutes into the second.

Things started to slip just after the half-way point of the period, when Evan Calder scored a powerplay goal at 10:02. Evan Lemke added another before the period was out, making it a 3-2 game at the second intermission.

The Bruins held the Rebels back for another 13:20, when Lemke got his second of the game to tie things at three, then Jace Kramer got the go-ahead goal 2:43 later. Down by one, the Bruins pulled Ethan Shebansky for the extra attacker with just under two minutes to play. Calder scored on the empty net to give the Rebels the win at home 5-3.

On Saturday night, a crowd of 450 packed the Jack to see the Bruins face the league-leading Princeton Posse who were on a seven-game winning streak and had a 7-2 victory the night before in Summerland.

The Posse opened the scoring midway through the first. Anmol Garcha took a shot from the far half-wall and although Ewan Soutar got a piece of it, the puck bounced and ended up in the Bruins net.

Early in the second period, Cody Laybolt tied the game for Grand Forks when he deflected a shot taken by Ethan Pyrcz to put the puck behind Nate Glenn. Just 40 seconds later, the Posse reclaimed the lead when Kassius Kler scored his 19th of the season. The Bruins power play unit got activated about 6 minutes into the period and Spencer Horning scored with the man advantage to make it 2-2. At 15:08., Jackson Smith won an offensive zone face off and played the puck to Reid Schechtel in front of the Bruins bench. His one-timer made its way through plenty of traffic and cleared Glenn’s left arm to give Schechtel his third goal of the season and the Bruins the lead for the first time that night. Chad Bates added another power play goal three minutes later, and though Dayton Nelson added a goal for Princeton before the end of the period, the Bruins went to the room with a 4-3 lead after 40 minutes.

The Bruins didn’t let up in the third period, with Jackson Smith scoring less than a minute in. Matteus Reis added another five minutes later, and Jonah Smith picked up his 27th of the season at the fifteen-minute mark – the Bruins defeated the Posse 7-3 in front of a very loud and very happy crowd. The win gave the Bruins’ their 24th victory of the season, the most wins in a season for the Bruins in 30 years – and the third-most wins in the team’s history.

The two points on Saturday night were huge for the Bruins as the Nelson Leafs also picked up a win while the Nitehawks had a pair of losses for the weekend. The Bruins sit two points ahead of Nelson and four ahead of the Nitehawks – both the Bruins and Nitehawks have a game in-hand over the Leafs, so this week’s schedule can still affect the seeding for the first round of the playoffs, which are due to start on February 17th.

The Bruins and Nitehawks meet for the last time in Fruitvale on Tuesday in what may be the most important game of the season yet. A Bruins win would clinch the division as the Leafs could then only tie the Bruins for points but would be a win behind in the seeding tie-breaker.

On the weekend, the Bruins play in Nelson for another crucial four-point game, then host the Castlegar Rebels at the Jack on Saturday for the last regular season game. The Nitehawks play in Castlegar on Friday and host Nelson on Saturday, and pretty much all that action in the Murdoch division could impact where each team gets seeded in the first round of playoffs.

The playoff schedule will be released following the conclusion of Saturday’s games once the playoff rounds are set.

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