The Nelson Junior Leafs head into a pre-season big weekend with a number of players still scrapping it out for a spot on the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League squad.
“It’s going really good,” Leafs coach Frank Maida told the Star on Wednesday. “We have a few kids left to make decisions about and they are playing well, so it is making our job extremely tough.”
The Leafs locked horns with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Tuesday night at the Nelson and District Community Complex for the team’s first pre-season game, thumping their visitors 8-2.
“The boys were excited to get that one going, it’s a great rivalry against Beaver Valley,” said Maida. “It was a good test for the new guys on board and those trying out to get a taste of what the KI is all about.”
Tough decisions aside, Maida is pleased with how the core of the team is coming together.
Over the weekend the Leafs added veteran KIJHL blueliner Darnel St. Pierre from the Revelstoke Grizzlies in a trade that sent Kyler Wilkinson and Damin Devlin to the Doug Birks Division team. St. Pierre was the division’s defenceman of the year in 2013-13 after the Grizzlies’ captain compiled eight goals and 17 assists. The hulking blueliner also lead Revelstoke in penalty minutes with 110.
“He was the captain of Revelstoke last year and we just thought we needed that addition,” Maida said of the trade. “He’s going to be a great leader on our team this year. He’s excited to be here and we are excited to have him.”
St. Pierre will join a defense unit that boasts veterans JJ Beitel, Robson Cramer and Cole Arcuri.
“We’re pretty diversified on the back end,” said Maida. “We have some offensive guys back there and a couple who can play it tough defensively. Our back end is shaping up very well.”
Some of the difficult decisions this weekend will involve a core of young local players who have turned heads over the past week.
“The locals have played extremely well,” Maida said of Austin Tambellini, Sam Webber, Nolan Percival and Adam Maida. “All the major midgets who are in camp right now have a real good chance of playing at this level and playing on our team.”
The Leafs will match up against the Creston Valley Thunder on Friday night at the NDCC and Sunday afternoon in Fruitvale against the Nitehawks.
“It’s getting close,” Maida said. “There will be some tough decisions to make between Friday and Sunday’s game. We plan to be down to our team by Sunday if we can, so it’s going to be an important weekend.”
Several key veterans are back in camp this week including Aaron Dunlap, Bryce Nielsen, Matt MacDonald, Carson Willans and Matthew Naka.
One noticeable absence this season will be Linden Horswill who made the cut with the Trail Smoke Eaters and will be playing his first season of Junior A hockey in the British Columbia Hockey League.
“It’s a great loss to our team, but it’s a great opportunity for Linden,” said Maida. “It’s my opinion that he could have been playing Junior A last season, we’re very happy and proud that he is getting that opportunity now. He’s a great kid and a great player, we will miss him but very proud to say we helped move him onto Junior A.”
The Leafs conclude the pre-season next Wednesday at the NDCC when they host the Castlegar Rebels. The 2013-14 KIJHL regular season begins next Friday with a game in Castlegar.