The scene might be familiar for Nelson Junior Leafs head coach and general manager Frank Maida, but the circumstances are much different.
The last time Maida was preparing for a Leafs training camp was two years ago. He was heading into his fifth season as the assistant coach to Simon Wheeldon. Together they had built a Kootenay International Junior Hockey League powerhouse program that was fresh off regular season and playoff titles.
When Maida hits the ice as the head coach for the first day of training camp tonight, he is going in pretty much blind.
“It’s a leap into the unknown,” Maida says. “I don’t know the kids personally, there are a lot of out of town kids and a lot of changeover from when I was with the team last.”
Maida took over the team just last month after last year’s head coach, Chris Shaw, departed for Vernon to be the Vipers assistant coach. Forced to rely on Shaw’s spring recruiting, Maida has spent the last few weeks attempting to touch base with as many hopefuls as possible via phone.
“It’s much different,” Maida says when asked to compare this week to those from his previous stint behind the bench. “For me, I’m a month into the season and there hasn’t been a lot of time to prepare.”
Still, Maida says he is looking forward to getting on the Nelson and District Community Complex ice tonight at 8 p.m.
“Right now I’m pretty excited to get started and get the season underway,” he says.
Maida expects about 30 players to arrive for the first day of camp and more to trickle in when the BCHL teams make their cuts during the weekend.
The veteran coach who has also spent time in the Nelson Minor Hockey program, says the pressure shifts from the coaching staff to the players when the ice sessions begin.
“You are looking for players that catch your eye in their ability,” Maida says. “Skating, handling the puck and shooting are key things that they need to show us. For me, I want kids with strong work ethic on the ice and players who you can see their skills grow as the season progresses.”
Maida will bring his own style and own stamp to the Leafs program, but says his philosophy is not much different than Wheeldon’s direction during the impressive five-year run that filled the NDCC walls with banners.
“We’re going to quick, fast skating team that moves the puck,” he says. “We will be very disciplined both on the ice and off the ice.”
Maida grew up playing minor hockey in Nelson. He went onto play junior in his hometown and even got in a few games with the Senior Maple Leafs. Maida’s son Jarrod was also a key member of the Junior Leafs a few years back. Because of his close ties to the community, Maida hopes local players impress at camp and have the opportunity to play for their hometown team.
“Obviously it’s important to have local kids on the team,” Maida says. “I grew up in Nelson and played my minor hockey here. I know when I was a kid it was a dream to play for the senior Leafs at the time.”
Though much too early to tell, Maida says he is approaching training camp with an eye on team success and a philosophy of helping kids chase their goals beyond junior B.
“That [winning a championship] is what our ultimate goal will be, but right now I am looking to get a good core of kids who will all want the same thing at the end of the day,” says Maida. “Ultimately we want to have a great hockey year and move these players on to the next level.”
Maida and assistant coach Stuart Linnen will run the recruits through drills tonight, Thursday and Friday. On Friday afternoon those who make the first round of cuts will take part in a mini tournament hosted by the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.