On a night that could have been reserved as a welcoming party for a returning star forward, it was an affiliate callup who stole the show.
Jesse Knowler scored the first (and eventual game-winning) goal, and added three assists, as the Rebels annihilated the Nelson Leafs 9-0 last night at the Complex.
Knowler, the 16 year-old captain of the major midget Kootenay Ice, fit in splendidly on a line with Jamie Vlanich and Arthur Andrews, and was arguably the most consistent and threatening player on the ice for Castlegar last night (for his efforts, he was named the game's first star).
Vlanich, Andrews, Taylor Anderson, Erik Wentzel, Darren Tarasoff, Tyler Jones, Stuart Walton and Anthony DeLong all chipped in with goals, and sniper Ryan Aynsley added an assist in his return to the KIJHL after a month with the BCHL's Trail Smoke Eaters.
Alex Ross and Cole Buckley combined for the shutout (Ross exited the game 20 seconds into the third period), while Marcus Beesley was chased after allowing four goals in the first period (Darren Hogg mopped up the final fourty).
To me, Nelson looked a bit flat after a 17-day holiday layoff, and as well as the Rebels played, the visitors weren't able to muster any sustained pressure, even on five power-play attempts. All four Castlegar lines were dangerous and worked hard at both ends of the ice, and never took their feet off the gas pedal even when the game was well out of reach.
One bright spot for Nelson, to me, was the return of defenceman Raymond Reimer after a long layoff. He's been out of the Leafs lineup since September after suffering a lower-body injury. On the other hand, former Spokane Braves sniper Joel Stewart was nowhere to be seen, and apparently I'm not the only one to notice: Leafs beat writer Bruce Fuhr laments on the team's offensive struggles in this recent article in the Nelson Daily.
All in all, an impressive return to action for Castlegar, who for the second time this season find themselves on a ten-game winning streak. Whether or not they carry the momentum on the road remains to be seen, but after last night's performance, one would have to like their chances.
Suspension Watch: Leafs forward Patrick Martens was tossed for a check from behind in the final ten minutes of the third period. I'd hazard a guess that the standard one-game ban under the new misconduct rules would probably apply and wouldn't expect to see anything extra.
Up Next: the Rebels visit Beaver Valley Sunday afternoon (1:00, Beaver Valley Arena).
Aynsley: Yes, he's back, and myself and Trail's play-by-play man Jon Zacks caught up with him last night after the game. I'll post the audio (along with a Knowler interview) once it's run on Mountain FM.