Winning comes secondary to the Nelson Leafs’ new general manager.
Don’t take that the wrong way: Lance Morey is as competitive as anyone. It was just a year ago that the West Kelowna Warriors won the national Junior A championship RBC Cup with Morey as the team’s director of scouting.
But Morey isn’t dreaming of trophies when he’s recruiting players.
“It’s more than just winning at this level,” he says. “It’s about helping the kids become citizens on and off the ice, helping them get on track with their scholastic endeavours and making sure if they have the ability to move onto the next level that we are doing that.”
Morey, who has over three decades experience coaching and scouting for Junior A and major junior teams in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C., worked in the background for the Leafs last season. Former goaltenders Billy Gorn and Devin Allen were, for example, each scouted by Morey prior to being acquired by the team.
After the season ended, Morey was offered the GM role by head coach Mario DiBella after Sean Dooley stepped down (Dooley is staying on as an assistant coach). Morey said he and DiBella share hockey sensibilities, which contributed to Morey accepting the job.
“We just have the same philosophy,” says Morey. “We’re kinda old-school guys. We’re on the same wavelength when it comes players and hockey and what you put into it, you get out of it. We have a lot of the same thoughts when it comes to the kind of players we like. It was a good fit.”
It also helped that Morey’s son Zach plays for the team.
Zach, a defenceman who was acquired by the Leafs during the 2015-16 season, gave Nelson a thumbs up after returning to the family’s home in Calgary.
Morey said he’ll be in Nelson more next season now that he’s GM, but he’ll mostly be steering clear of his son.
“I don’t want to ruin the hockey experience for him and I don’t want to be Dad around the rink,” he says. “We had that discussion. For the most part I’ll still try to stay in the background and leave the coaching to the coaches and just do my thing, which is recruiting players and working with the board helping with some idea on how to enhance our program off the ice, and some game-day promotions.”
The Leafs opened training camp Friday at the Nelson and District Community Complex. Morey said he expects about 42 players to take part, which doesn’t include five players who will be away at Junior A camps but could still end up on the Leafs’ roster.
The camp will also include local rep players, who Morey invited to make sure Nelson natives are well represented. Morey said he hates seeing Nelson players competing for other teams.
“I want them to feel like they can be part of the Nelson Leafs program and I feel like it’s our obligation to try to get as many local kids on the team as possible.”
It’s more than just good PR. Nelson native Colum McGauley made the Leafs’ roster out of training camp last year, and ended up being a key contributor on a team that finished the regular season with a 21-21-5 record and went to the second round of the KIJHL playoffs. Morey said he expects McGauley and fellow forward Ryan Piva to each take another step forward this season.
The Leafs’ glaring need will be in net. Billy Gorn is too old to play Junior B hockey now, and Devin Allen has signed with the OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Morey, who scouted both Gorn and Allen, said he’s confident Nelson will have a solid No. 1 goaltender by the time the season begins.
Morey said defence will also continue to be a strength. Michael LeNoury is returning to the team, as is Brendan MacKay who showed big improvement throughout the last campaign.
On offence, Morey said he expects Sawyer Hunt will again pivotal to the team’s goal production. Two players he also believes will be key are forwards Jack Karran and Logan Wullum.
“[Karran’s] worked out hard this summer,” said Morey. “He’s come in with the attitude he wants to be one of the best guys. He definitely has the talent to be.”
Wullum, meanwhile, was one of the Leafs’ best acquisitions last season with seven goals and seven assists in 21 games, including another three goals and an assist during nine playoff games.
“How can you not love the kid? He’s not the biggest kid in the world but he plays like he is. He’s fearless. I think him being here the full year and playing like that, it has to rub off on other players. It has to. If you’re six-foot-three and you’re sitting on the bench watching the kid do the things he’s doing, you should be embarrassed if you don’t play the same way.”
Last year was ostensibly a rebuilding year for the Leafs, one that Morey thinks was better than their final record showed. He’s hopeful the work he’s done during the summer pays off for the team in the winter.
“I think this year we’re starting off with a great nucleus. We’ve got some really good players coming in.”