Entering his third full year behind the bench of the Nelson Junior Leafs, head coach Frank Maida is more excited than ever to start the 2013-14 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League campaign.
As host of the Cyclone Taylor Cup, the Leafs are guaranteed a spot in the tournament that determines British Columbia’s Junior B champion. Maida plans on earning that spot and not simply coasting in as host.
“I’m looking forward to starting, seeing the returning players and getting the new guys on board,” Maida told the Star on the eve of training camp. “It’s time to start focusing on what type of team we’re going to build.”
Training camp opens tonight at the Nelson and District Community Complex. Maida expects to see as many as 60 players report and then start battling for one of the coveted spots on the team.
“It’s been different, there has been some easy recruiting and then there has been some difficult recruiting,” said Maida — who is also the team’s general manager — when asked how the off season went. “All the kids are willing and wanting to come, but some kids feel that there may not be room for them because of the Cyclone Taylor.
“We’ve spent some time during the off season to determine what we need and we have gone out to recruit those kids.”
As is the case at this stage of the Junior B season, chaos is king. With most Junior A camps starting last week, there are still many of Maida’s recruits and veterans working hard to fill spots at a higher level. Along with running drills and evaluating players this weekend, Maida will be working the phones with his Junior A contacts to see what is happening with those who expressed interest in Nelson as a possible Junior B destination.
“You have to be ready and know your options,” said Maida. “You have to think ahead and always have a back-up plan.”
When the players hit the ice tonight at 5:30 p.m. for a scrimmage, Maida said what is going to catch his eye is pretty simple.
“Basically it’s work ethic,” he said. “I want a hard working team that never stops battling. They need to be in great physical condition coming into camp.”
One of the biggest holes to fill will be between the pipes. Last year’s goaltending duo of Brett Soles and Marcus Beesley will not return with the former going to Notre Dame the latter done his junior eligibility. With six goaltenders in camp, Maida will be watching the puckstoppers closely.
“It’s a good opportunity for this group to earn a spot this weekend. I’m interested to see what happens” said Maida.
The camp continues on Saturday morning with a practice session at the NDCC. On Saturday night at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. there will be intersquad games against Beaver Valley recruits. The camp will wrap Sunday morning with another scrimmage and then Maida will make his first cuts.
The five-game exhibition schedule begins on Tuesday when Beaver Valley visits the NDCC and on Friday night Creston will come to Nelson. Both games start at 7 p.m.
Nelson begins the KIJHL regular season on Friday, September 13 when they travel to Castlegar for a tilt with the Rebels.