Expectations are high for Nelson’s playoff run following the Leafs’ best regular season in four years.
The Leafs open the best-of-seven first round series Friday at home to the Grand Forks Border Bruins after finishing the campaign atop the Neil Murdoch Division for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
Nelson of course won’t look past the Border Bruins, but the Leafs went unbeaten in eight games against Grand Forks during the regular season and will want to take care of business quickly in the first round.
As it did during the regular season, Nelson will rely on strong goaltending and its stout defensive corps in the playoffs.
Everything starts with top goaltender Josh Williams, who led the league in shutouts with seven, goals-against average at 1.86 and save percentage at .937.
Williams has also benefited from a strong blue line and a penalty killing unit that leads the league at an 88.6 per cent success rate. Nelson allowed a league-low 101 goals against during the regular season.
Up front, Sawyer Hunt, Ryan Cooper and Ryan Piva lead the team in scoring, but the Leafs lack a clear goal-scoring threat and have instead relied on each line contributing to the scoreline.
Against the Border Bruins, Nelson will want to isolate Trey Mason, who leads the opposition with 67 points and is the cornerstone of their offence.
The second-round possibilities are far more intriguing.
Nelson would face either the Castlegar Rebels or Beaver Valley Nitehawks, two teams that gave the Leafs trouble throughout the season.
Nelson lost its final two games of the regular season last weekend, 4-1 in Castlegar on Friday and 3-2 in overtime to the Nitehawks on Saturday. Those results shouldn’t worry the team, however, since the Leafs were resting five players both games and also lost defenceman Michael Bladon to a BCHL call-up on Saturday.
But with a full, healthy lineup, the Leafs showed they were among the league’s elite this year. They finished third overall behind Kimberley and Revelstoke, respectively, and will try to advance to their first conference final in eight years.
The road there begins Friday at the Nelson and District Community Complex
Leaflets: Nelson will be without assistant coach Sean Dooley for six games. He was suspended by the league as well as B.C. Hockey for an altercation with a referee Friday in Castlegar that continued off-ice.