The sibling rivalry in this year’s KIJHL Kootenay Conference final just took a dramatic turn.
Stuart Walton’s goal with 1:28 remaining in the third period lifted the Castlegar Rebels to a 5-3 victory and 2-1 series lead over the Fernie Ghostriders in front of 587 fans at the Complex Thursday night.
Walton stepped around Fernie defenceman Mark Strachan and lifted a puck toward his older brother (and former Rebel) Andrew, who appeared to hit it with his blocker before it snuck underneath the crossbar.
Referee Mike Page, despite being well away from the play, pointed to signal a goal and stayed the course following a conversation with his linesmen, much to the frustration of the Elk Valley visitors, including one member of the bench staff who was ejected from the game.
“I drove the net hard, I saw it hit the post, and I think it was in,” the younger Walton said after the game.
It was an odd climax to a Rebel comeback that spanned two periods, after Fernie quickly built up a 3-1 lead on tallies by Jeff Zmurchyk, Luke Richardson and Connor McLaughlin.
Castlegar, having already gotten a goal from sniper Anthony DeLong, struck back after a sharp-angled Jesse Knowler wrister fooled Walton.
Overager Ryan Aynsley leveled the score at 3-3 with only 18 seconds remaining in the second period, taking advantage of a Richardson giveaway.
He would add an empty-net goal in the dying seconds to preserve the Rebels’ win.
Despite the slow start, Game 3 was a bounce-back effort from Castlegar after a disappointing result in Tuesday’s Game 2.
Castlegar could feasibly take a 3-1 series lead Saturday night at the Complex when the two sides play Game 4 of the best-of-seven series.
Game 5 will be played Monday in Fernie.
The series winner will face either the Osoyoos Coyotes or defending Keystone Cup champion Revelstoke Grizzlies in the KIJHL finals, which are slated to begin on March 18.
The Okanagan Conference final is tied at 2-2 after a 2-1 Grizzlies overtime victory Thursday night.