The Bruins salute the fans after a home-opening win on Friday. Photo by Peter Kalasz

Bruins win season opener at home on Friday

Submitted by Kevin McKinnon

Grand Forks Border Bruins

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League 2022/2023 season got underway this weekend with a pair of games played by the Grand Forks Border Bruins at the Jack Goddard Memorial Arena.

To start the home opener off on Friday night, a tailgate party was held in the parking lot in the hours leading up to the game, with most of the attendees sticking around for the game. The Bruins played before one of the largest crowds in recent memory to kick the season off.

This year, cross-over games with the Okanagan conference are back, with the southern OK teams playing in Grand Forks, and it was the North Okanagan Knights from Armstrong in town for opening night.

The visitors opened the scoring early in the first period. Connor Sankey sped up the left side and grazed Ethan Shebansky’s pad with the puck trickling in on the right side. Ten minutes later, the Bruins tied the game with a slick play that saw Chad Bates play the puck behind the Knights’ net then proceed to the slot where he caught the puck after a fanned shot by Karsten Gorrill, and with Gorrill providing the traffic in front, Bates was able to flip the puck glove-side on Rhys Netherton. The Knights retook the lead late in the first when Devin Jameson snagged a rebound from in close and caught Shebansky.

In the second period, the Bruins took the lead with a pair of goals in the first two minutes (Tyson Kistner and Austen Rayburn). Kyle Wheeler and Connor Sankey added a pair for the North Okanagan squad three minutes later to retake the lead, but the Bruins negated those goals when Matteus Reis scored on the powerplay at 9:46 and Rayburn collected his second of the period at 11:07.

Fraser O’Brien tied the game 6:06 into the third period, but Tyson Tokarz responded at 12:54. It was a high-scoring game with plenty of action for both teams, and the Bruins walked out of the building with their first win of the season to the delight of well over 300 fans.

Saturday night, the home stand continued when the Nelson Leafs came to town. Last season, the Leafs swept the Bruins in the regular season, finishing first in the Neil Murdoch division, ultimately winning the Kootenay Conference in the playoffs but falling to the Revelstoke Grizzlies in the KIJHL Teck Cup final.

The Bruins outshot the Leafs 18-15 in the first period, but neither goaltender allowed a goal in the frame. The Bruins again scored a pair of goals early in the second period, this time both in the first minute (Tokarz’ second of the weekend, and Spencer Horning’s first of the season). Kingsley Brockett narrowed the lead before the second intermission, scoring Nelson’s first goal at 15:24 of the second.

A series of penalties against the Bruins in the third period allowed Nelson a pair of powerplay goals (Johnny Carmichael’s second of the season, Jason Scott’s first). In the last minute of the game, with the Bruins’ net empty, Leafs captain Bennett Anklewich got ahead of all 6 Bruins to pick up the rebound of a wide shot, putting it into the empty net at 19:28.

Coach Dave Hnatiuk said after Saturday’s game that splitting the first weekend’s schedule should show fans how the team has progressed since the start of last season. The broadcast team also spoke of the difference in starts, and noted that teams coming into the Jack with preconceived notions based on last years’ record are going to have to work a lot harder against this Bruins team that they likely expect.

The Bruins’ week starts with a road game against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in Fruitvale on Tuesday, followed by a home game against the Castlegar Rebels on Friday, and a trip to Nelson on Saturday. All games are available online on www.hockeytv.com