If seven games in 10 days wasn’t enough to bring the Nelson Junior Leafs closer together, a road trip to the Okanagan this weekend might help a little more with early season team bonding.
After a grueling stretch that saw the locals go 5-2-0, the Leafs hit the road to Summerland where they will tangle with the Steam tonight. On Saturday night the Neil Murdoch Division leaders will head down Highway 97 to Penticton where they will take on the upstart Lakers.
“It’s good to do some team building and spend some time away from Nelson together for a couple days… it will be good for us,” says Leafs head coach Frank Maida.
The Leafs have jumped out to a decent start in this young Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season. With an 8-3-0-1 record, the club has faired well against competition both in their division and out.
“I think we look good, but what we have found so far is on any night it can be anybody’s game,” says Maida. “If we go into every game ready, prepared and focused we will be in all games. If we go into games thinking we just need to show up, as we found out on Sunday [in a 5-3 loss to Spokane], we fall behind and have to come back.”
Two pleasant surprises in the Leafs line-up this season have been Creston import Matti Jmaeff and Nelson Minor Hockey product Dallon Stoddart.
Jmaeff has proven to be a solid set-up man in the Leafs’ offense, registering 17 assists to go along with three goals. The former Creston Valley Thunder Cat currently sits tied for fourth in the KIJHL scoring race.
“Matti has been in the league for a year and I think the change of scenery has worked out really well for him,” says Maida. “He has had a great start.”
Stoddart is in his second full season with the Leafs and has already surpassed his 2010-11 point total of 12. As a centre on a line that features a pair of other locals — Linden Horswill and Carson Willians — Stoddart has notched six goals and seven assists in 12 games.
“Dallon has had a great start,” says Maida. “We have put him in many situations and he has responded.”
Maida is looking forward to this weekend’s road test.
“I’m very pleased with the effort we have been getting and a lot of that has to do with the players being open to learning new systems,” he says.
The next Leafs home game is Wednesday against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.