KIJHL: Leafs course correct at deadline

GM Sean Dooley helps us make sense of the team's overhaul.

Anyone watching the Nelson Leafs play last weekend probably asked themselves at some point just who was on the ice.

The Leafs acquired four players while losing five prior to Thursday’s roster cuts deadline. The team needed to get down to 23 players while keeping two extra spots open for possible use prior to the Jan. 10 trade deadline.

With that in mind, head coach Mario DiBella and general manager Sean Dooley worked the phones in the lead up to the deadline. Dooley said the coaching staff knew changes would have to be made even before an ugly stretch saw them win just twice in 10 November games.

“I don’t think we hit the panic button,” said Dooley. “We were thinking, okay, if we get all our players back and this keeps happening what do we need? Regardless of that, we knew we needed the guys we brought into the lineup. They’re going to make us better no matter what. Our goal is we want to win. That’s it.”

The result was a dramatic makeover of a team that appears to have significantly improved. Here’s a roundup of each move:

ACQUIRED PLAYERS

1 . G Billy Gorn signed after his release from Junior A team

Gorn, who started both weekend games for the Leafs, was targeted by DiBella as an option in net. The team also didn’t need to acquire his Junior B rights after Gorn was let go from his team in Fort Francis, Ont.

“We had a couple lines on goalies, a young guy and an older guy,” said Dooley. “I think the theory was go with the older guy because of experience, and he has Junior A experience, so he’s obviously a competitor in that sense.”

2. D Kyle Rosolowski acquired from Osoyoos for the rights of Michael Crawford, future considerations

Rosolowski, who has already played for Golden and the Coyotes this season, adds an offensive threat from the blue-line. Crawford, meanwhile, was a former Leaf currently playing south of the border that Osoyoos had interest in.

“[Rosolowski’s] a big, strong, excellent skater, excellent shot, offensive defenceman who’s also good defensively,” said Dooley. “So it was kind of a no-brainer that if we could get another one of those guys just to strengthen the D-corps.”

3. F Alex Meeker acquired from 100 Mile House for futures

Another DiBella target, Meeker won a championship with 100 Mile House last season. Dooley said the Leafs got him at the 11th hour Thursday.

“He’s a good two-way player who has a physical edge to him, and he’s won. He’s gone the distance, he’s been part of a championship team. It’s like Sawyer [Hunt], right? He’s been part of that championship team and that’s something we thought would be really valuable to our lineup.”

4. F Cooper Schroder signed after release from Junior A team

Schroder was first scouted by the Leafs at the Trail Smoke Eaters’ camp in May. When he was released from his team in Blind River, Ont., Schroder called Dooley on Thursday to see if a spot was still open.

“He’s a big power forward,” said Dooley. “He’s just a big kid who has all the skills. He can skate, he can hit, he can shoot. He doesn’t have a lot of holes in his game, and he’s young.”

DEPARTING PLAYERS

5. G Jason Sandhu traded to Kamloops for future considerations

Sandhu was one of the Leafs’ main off-season acquisitions, but a lower-body injury took him out of action for six weeks. In the interim the Leafs added Devin Allen, and Sandhu requested a trade in order to play more in his final season.

“At the end of the day it was just a discussion that we had with him,” said Dooley. “He said it was his 20-year-old season and there was an opportunity in Kamloops to be a No. 1 guy and asked if we would explore that. We did and made a deal.”

6. D Noah Looman to Chase for futures

Looman was signed by the Leafs in October after he was released from a Junior A team in Saskatchewan. But the addition of Rosolowski meant the team had one more defenceman than they needed.

“Noah’s a good D-man,” said Dooley. “There’s nothing wrong with Noah’s play or anything else. He was a great team guy, great in the dressing room, mature.”

7. F/D Charlie Wilkie to Princeton for futures

Wilkie made the Leafs out of training camp as a forward who could also play defence. But the Leafs needed to drop a winger, and Princeton called asking about Wilkie’s availability.

Dooley said letting Wilkie know he’d been traded was the most difficult conversation he’s had with a player.

“Charlie came here, he played defence, he played forward, he worked hard, he’s a great kid, a great student. He was involved in the community, always a smile on his face, never complained, and he absolutely loved [playing] in our organization.”

He added the coaching staff took the extra step of inviting Wilkie back to practice just so he could say goodbye to teammates.

“Usually when you trade someone it’s like, okay, they hang up, drop their stuff off and they’re gone. But no matter what [Wilkie] will always be a player that we admire.”

8. F Kolten Nelson to Sicamous for futures

The Leafs veteran had three goals and six assists in 15 games before suffering an upper-body injury. He was initially traded to Comox, but never reported to the team for personal reasons. Dooley said they received an offer from the Eagles and decided to take it.

9. F Eamonn Miller called up by the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Blizzard of Manitoba’s Junior A league

Arguably the biggest loss for the Leafs, Miller joined the team last season and had four goals and eight assists through 18 games this fall. Dooley said he expected the 18-year-old would get called up to Junior A prior to the season.

“He’s young, he’s good, he has a chance to play in Junior A, so it’s in the back of your mind but I didn’t really expect a Junior A team to take him at this point in the season. But at the same time I wasn’t totally surprised because we know his ability as a player and his age.”

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