After going pointless this past weekend, Nelson Junior Leafs head coach Frank Maida says the plan heading into a three-game Okanagan/Similkameen roadswing is simple.
“We expect six points… we’re heading there to get all six,” Maida told the Nelson Star earlier this week. “We set our goals after the Saturday night game [a loss to Beaver Valley] and the boys have made a commitment to work hard all week to accomplish it.”
Before running into a three-game losing streak to end the month, the locals had compiled a solid October record going 8-2 and enjoyed the penthouse view of the Neil Murdoch Division. Injuries and what the coaching staff calls a lack of preparation has seen consecutive losses to Summerland, Creston Valley and Beaver Valley.
“I’m pleased with the effort we have gotten and the learning,” Maida said when asked to assess the October output. “There are a couple more wins that we should have that we are learning from because we took teams too lightly [Summerland and Creston]. We have given up four points, but as long as we are learning from that it can be a positive. We have to be ready for every game, not just some games.”
Despite the recent stumble, the Leafs have plenty to be optimistic about as they near the midway point of what has been a very busy start. Still solidly in second place in the division — Beaver Valley claimed top spot with Saturday’s 3-2 win — the Leafs have asserted themselves as one of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s top squads.
Pretty positive start when you consider Maida and his current coaching staff were thrown into the mix in the middle of the summer when last season’s coach Chris Shaw departed to become the Vernon Vipers assistant.
A pair of Leafs occupy spots in the league’s top-10 scoring list. Veterans Patrick Martens sits fourth and Colton Schell sits 10th as the pair have found chemistry on the team’s top line. KIJHL rookie Nik Newman is also in the league’s top-20 and before an injury slowed him Matti Jmaeff was putting up impressive numbers.
Despite not being 100 per cent healthy since the season began, 20-year-old goaltender Andrew Walton has shown several flashes of brilliance between the pipes. Rookie Patrick Defoe has been thrown into the mix more than expected and has been effectively picking up the slack.
“There is a good feeling on the team,” Maida said. “The vets are really leading the way in the dressing room and on the ice. The team gets along well and everybody is feeling encouragement from each other.”
The Leafs pull out of Nelson this morning for a three game weekend that includes stops in Princeton, Kelowna and Osoyoos.