With typical early season uncertainty, the Nelson Junior Leafs will dive into the 2012-13 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League campaign on Friday night against the Castlegar Rebels.
“I’m happy with the progression through main camp and into pre-season,” said Leafs head coach Frank Maida. “Now we just have to get ready for the regular season start.”
When the puck drops Friday night at the Nelson and District Community Complex, there will still be several question marks for Maida and his coaching staff. There remain several players battling for spots on the team and with Junior A clubs still in the throes of final cuts, the local club might still see some trickle down.
“It’s coming together,” Maida told the Star on the eve of the team’s final pre-season game against the Rebels on Tuesday night at the NDCC (which starts at 7 p.m.). “Unfortunately there is still some uncertainty with veterans and recruits still at Junior A camps. We might not know about those players until the regular season gets underway.”
The goal of the Nelson program is to move players onto Junior A and beyond. The fact some positions are still vacant and waiting for decisions from above is seen as a positive.
“The guys that are close to Junior A are hanging in and might make it or be the final cuts,” said Maida. “It’s a good situation all around really.”
Though still molding the team, Maida has a pretty decent understanding of what kind of squad will be battling for KIJHL superiority this season.
“I think our strengths will be in goal and we are deep up front,” he said. “We will be younger on the back end, but there is some skill there. Overall I’m pretty happy with what I see out there.”
Though more veterans might be back in the coming weeks, Maida has a good idea which veterans will be counted on to show the way over the next seven months.
“A big part of the puzzle will be [forward] Colton Schell and [defenceman] JJ Beitel,” said Maida. “Those two players brought a lot last year and will bring a lot of leadership this year. We will need those to players to lead the way.”
Two Nelson Minor Hockey grads — Linden Horswill and Carson Willians — will also emerge from last year’s rookie season with more responsibility.
“Linden and Carson will be a big part of this team,” said Maida. “They will be counted on in a lot of situations. It will be more difficult for them this year because other teams know who they are now, but they can handle it.”
It’s a long season, but at this point Maida is not shy to set lofty goals. The second-year head coach wants to make a big impact in the tough Neil Murdoch Division.
“My expectations are that we are going to finish strong,” he said. “I want to finish in the top-two, if not first.”
The puck drops on the Leafs 2012-13 regular season at 7 p.m. on Friday at the NDCC.