By Bob Hall
The Nelson Junior Leafs solidified its defensive end last week with a pair of deals that sent two 20-year-olds to local hockey club.
Leafs head coach and general manager Chris Shaw pulled the trigger on two trades that will bring tested veteran goaltender Andrew Walton and two-way defenceman Branden Redschlag to the Nelson and District Community Complex dressing room.
“We were looking to find somebody who could be a starter for us this season,” Shaw says of the Walton deal that saw veteran defenceman Braeden Hikichi heading to the East Kootenay. “With being a local kid and having seen him play with Fernie and Castlegar last year, it seemed like a real good fit for us.”
Walton was raised in Castlegar and spent three-plus seasons with the Castlegar Rebels before being dealt to the Fernie Ghostriders midway through last season. The 6’1” netminder is one of the top goalies in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with stats to back it up.
Last season Shaw had a pair of untested 17-year-olds between the pipes in Marcus Beesley and Darren Hogg. Both goalies played well for the Leafs, but the pair will now have decent shots at catching on with a British Columbia Hockey League team for 2011-12.
“We couldn’t really go wrong with making that deal, especially with the uncertainty with both Beesley and Hogg,” says Shaw.
The fact Walton has now been traded twice in less than a year is no indication the veteran stopper has any off-ice issues.
“The only reason he was traded last season was because he wanted to go on a championship run with Fernie,” says Shaw. “He had been in Castlegar for three years and sometimes things grow a little stale and you want a change scenery. One of the big reasons for us getting him is that he is local and wants to go to [Selkirk] college.”
In Hikichi — who hails from Kelowna — the Leafs lose a potentially explosive 19-year-old defenceman who was heading into his third year with the local team.
“Fernie had been very interested in Hikichi all last season,” explains Shaw. “It was one of those situations where you have to give up something to get something. He gets to go onto another great classy organization and we get what we need in the net.”
Redschlag comes to Nelson from the Kelowna Chiefs for future considerations (Shaw will have to provide Kelowna with a player before December 31). The Leafs coach is very familiar with Redschlag, having coached him when he was the assistant in Penticton two seasons ago.
“Losing Hick, we had to fill a vacancy there,” says Shaw. “He is an all-star defenceman, I would say he is probably the best two-way defenceman in the league. When you can get a kid of that calibre and you have a good rapport with him, I was pretty excited to have an opportunity to take him.”
Shaw is currently in Las Vegas where he is helping run the Global Sports Showcase. The camp brings together 600 young hockey players from all over the continent with scouts from all levels (NCAA, USHL, BCHL, Junior B) in attendance.
“We will try to pull a couple players out of here,” says Shaw, who has helped with the Vegas camp for the last 15 years.
When he returns home next week, Shaw will start preparing for the Nelson Leafs Hockey School which runs July 25-29 at the Nelson and District Community Complex. The school will see Leafs players and former NHLers on the ice with young hockey players.
Leafs training camp is scheduled to start on August 29.