Things didn’t look good for the Nelson Leafs Bantam House Division squad back at the beginning of the season.
However, the squad’s grit, determination and a refusal to break up the team led to an inspiring season.
The Leafs took second place in the playoffs this season, a remarkable feat considering they almost folded.
At the start of the hockey season, numbers were down as only 10 skaters and one goalie had registered to play.
The local association considered moving some of the players up a division and others down to join with teams in other levels.
But the Bantam players had been together for years and, along with their parents, decided to keep the squad together, despite being seriously shorthanded.
Over the following weeks, three players from Kaslo were recruited. With the addition of two more local players, the squad had a respectable roster of 16 by the start of December.
The Nelson squad had some struggles as they were up against more experienced, former Rep Division players in teams from Castlegar and Trail. But the team played hard all season, and steadily improved. By the end of the seaon, the Leafs finished in eighth place, out of nine teams in the West Kootenay Minor Hockey Association.
That finished qualified the team for the playoffs where they had to play the sixth, fourth and second place finishers in the division.
Remarkably, at the end of the series of games, three teams, including Nelson, were tied with equal records.
Only the top two teams in each pool were to move onto the semi-final games in the Castlegar.
After the tie breaking procedure was calculated, the eighth place Leafs came out in second and moved onto to play the first-place winners in the other pool — the Castlegar Vikings.
The game took place on the same day Team Canada won gold at the Olympics. Many of the players had got up early to watch the gold medal game, then had to play at 8 a.m. the same morning.
Being tired didn’t seem to matter.
They may have been inspired, or maybe just energized, but Nelson played exceptionally hard, and at the end of regulation time, found themselves tied 5-5. The five-minute overtime period began with both teams playing to win. With just 25 seconds remaining in the overtime period, Marco Falcone scored the winning goal for the Leafs, propelling the squad — that the association had talked about folding — into the playoff final.
To complete the amazing journey, the Leafs would have to beat the 15-1 Trail Warriors for the title.
As they have done all season, The Leafs came out fighting. Despite some great effort and exceptional goaltending by Connor Comishin, the squad fell to Trail in the final.
But there were no sad faces on the local squad. The Leafs, the squad that many thought should be disbanded, proved their critics and doubters wrong.