If Briar McNaney has his way, the Nelson Leafs will be four lines deep before the KIJHL regular season begins.
Forty-six players vied to make the roster at a busy training camp last weekend. McNaney, heading into his first full season as Leafs head coach, said the team has nine returnees from the last campaign as well as a number of players away trying out for BCHL teams.
“There’s a lot of skill level that we put in here, a lot of size and we feel that every single guy here has a chance to earn a spot on the team,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of compete from a lot of guys in a lot of different ways. I’m very impressed so far.”
The upcoming season will be the Leafs’ first as a Junior A team after the KIJHL was promoted along with two other Junior B leagues in the off-season by BC Hockey.
McNaney said the draw of playing for Junior A convinced several players to visit the Leafs’ camp. He’ll also have the option to put an additional veteran on the 25-man roster after the KIJHL changed the maximum number of 20-year-old players a team can have from five to six.
Summer scouting by general manager Lance Morey and McNaney has him convinced the Leafs will be prepared to play.
“I think this is the deepest roster that I’ve recruited being in our league, that’s for sure, at every position.”
The Leafs’ camp was also notable for the addition of new faces on the bench.
Russell Sanderson has joined Nelson as an assistant coach. Sanderson is a former goaltender who has played in the KIJHL, VIJHL and BCHL.
“To have a guy with that kind of knowledge and experience in the room is invaluable,” said McNaney. “He’s worth his weight in gold right now from having him around the dressing room in a short amount of time. You can tell he’s experienced. He should be a head coach somewhere.”
McNaney has also hired Cole Arcuri as an assistant coach. Arcuri, a defenceman, played 36 regular season games for the Leafs between 2011 and 2016 as well as in the BCHL for Powell River, Merritt and Trail.
“He really wants to make a difference with some of these younger players and help guys out. Very energetic, great guy. He’s great with the kids so far, we’re very fortunate to have him.”
McNaney took over as head coach in January and helmed a team that slumped to a first-round playoff exit just one season after playing in the championship final.
Fans get their first look at the latest Leafs roster on Friday when they open the pre-season against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats. Nelson then visits Spokane on Sept. 9, Beaver Valley on Sept. 10 and Creston on Sept. 15 before closing exhibition play at home against Golden on Sept. 16.
Nelson kicks off the regular season at home to the Revelstoke Grizzlies on Sept. 22.