When Nelson Junior Leafs training camp opens on Friday afternoon, head coach Frank Maida will feel a lot more comfortable in his skates than a year ago.
“I’ve had more time to prepare and actually go out and recruit players,” said Maida, who also fills the team’s general manager position. “Last year when I took over, all the Junior A camps were over and I didn’t have that same opportunity.”
Last summer the veteran coach was thrust into the bench boss position after the sudden departure of Chris Shaw. After one season behind the Leafs’ bench, Shaw moved onto Junior A to take an assistant coach role with the Vernon Vipers.
Maida guided the Leafs to a respectable 30-17-0-5 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League regular season record. The Leafs then bowed out to Neil Murdoch Division rival Castlegar Rebels in the first round of the playoffs.
As is the case in junior hockey, once the curtain closed on the 2011-12 season, Maida’s work for the next campaign started. Over the last few months, the veteran coach made the best of his time.
“I’m feeling a little more stable,” Maida said of his approach heading into his second camp as the head coach. “Last year I didn’t know any of the players that were returning or the ones coming in that Chris had recruited. It was certainly different than this year.”
Maida expects 50 hopefuls to take to the Nelson and District Community Complex ice on Friday night.
The camp will start with a fitness test and be followed by two games on Friday night. The camp will resume on Saturday morning with two more games, followed by a mid-day practice and then two more games on Saturday evening. Recruits will get one last stab at making an impression on Sunday morning with two more games. The Leafs’ coaching staff will then trim the roster and meet with those players who they release.
“The first thing we are looking for is conditioning,” Maida said of what he expects from those who take the ice on Friday. “We will be doing a fitness test and you need to be in top shape. We are going to have a tight camp… conditioning and hard workers are what we are looking for.
“It will be pretty intense, you need to be in good shape to survive the weekend.”
As is normal with Junior B camps, one of the main factors a coaching staff needs to balance is cuts from Junior A camps. With many BC Hockey League teams in the throes of their final decision-making, some of the players that will make the 2012-13 Leafs’ roster will not even be on the ice this weekend.
“I have been on the phone all the time and doing a lot of texting,” said Maida, who was in the stands at the Cominco Arena for Trail Smoke Eaters camp this past weekend.
“That’s what it’s all about at this time of the year — watching the players, communicating and just waiting.”
Heading into camp Maida does know he will have at least a few veterans to build a foundation on. Twenty-year-old Colton Schell will be back for his third season with the Leafs and Calgary native JJ Beitel will be back to anchor the blueline brigade. Veterans Cam Dobransky, Andrew Miller, Blake Arcuri and goaltender Patrick DeFoe will also be in camp this weekend.
Currently there are nine players from last year’s roster who are in Junior A camps.
“We are hoping they make Junior A, that’s the goal of our program,” said Maida.
Nelson Minor Hockey grads Matt Macdonald, Cole Arcuri, John Katountas and Colton Dawson will also be looking to pull on a Leafs’ jersey this season.
Once the first round of cuts are made on Sunday, the Leafs will head into the pre-season schedule where those who survive will get a chance to show what they can do. The Leafs engage in a home-and-home with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Tuesday (in Nelson) and Wednesday (in Fruitvale).
Though a little early to make any bold predictions, the man who was a Leafs assistant coach for six highly successful seasons between 2004 and 2010 said he is excited to see it coming together.
“I feel we are going to have a good team,” said Maida. “We have a quite few players coming that will fill the spots we need. We have done well at recruiting and I feel good about going into camp.”
“It’s a great time of the year because we are finally lacing them up this weekend.”
IN THE CREASE: The Leafs made some off-season trades. Maida shipped defenceman Walker Sidoni to Beaver Valley so he could play closer to his hometown of Trail in exchange for Jacob Boyczuk. Boyczuk scored eight goals and added 11 assists for the Nitehawks in his rookie KIJHL season. The Leafs also traded Max Mois to Victoria for future considerations.