Pre-season games are played to be forgotten.
Put another way, there was very little worth remembering about the Nelson Leafs’ return to home ice Friday. A goaltender gave away a goal, a veteran was tossed in the first period and an opposing player whiffed on a penalty shot.
Of course, the result, a 3-1 loss to the Revelstoke Grizzlies, didn’t matter much to Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. He’s just trying to figure out what his team will look like when the regular season begins in a week.
“I think we’re looking to see how we can play as a unit,” said DiBella. “There’s certain players I feel like stepped up and played awful well and some that disappeared. Those that are in both categories know who they are without having to discuss it. I thought it was a pretty entertaining game. I didn’t think the score really indicated how the play went.”
Few familiar faces from the squad that made it to the conference finals last season were on the ice.
Six players from that team won’t return this year for various reasons such as school commitments or Junior A opportunities, which for the time being leaves DiBella with plenty of work to do in reshaping his roster prior to next Friday’s season opener at home to the North Okanagan Knights.
Taylor Paulovich, who scored the Leafs’ lone goal Friday, stood out to DiBella, as did veteran Jack Karran and off-season acquisition Shawn Campbell.
“I think that we’re looking to find certain pieces,” said DiBella. “We’ve found some of them, we haven’t found all of them. When we do I think we’re going to be pretty powerful.”
The first period was notable only for the strange sight of seeing every player wearing a cage. BC Hockey announced in December that helmet cages would be mandatory for all players in its three Junior B leagues, which include the KIJHL. That gave the contest a distinctly minor hockey flair and made recognizing the few familiar faces on the ice a chore.
One of those familiar faces was out of the game before the opening 20 minutes ended. Logan Wullum was tossed with two minutes left in the first period for a slashing penalty.
Wullum, one of the Leafs’ cornerstones last season, isn’t a fan of the new helmets.
“I don’t really like it to be honest,” he said. “It’s harder to see, harder to breathe. It changes the game too. Guys pretty much aren’t scared at all. You can do anything, put your face in front of anything and just don’t really have a sense of when to stop. …
“When you get a visor you’re playing more protective. I think you’re thinking a lot more. With the cage, you’re not thinking about the damage or shooting or high sticks. I’m not a big fan of the whole visor-cage rule.”
Moments later Paulovich swiped the puck alone in the Grizzlies’ slot but put his shot off McGarva’s face mask. That ended up being Nelson’s best chance of the period.
A poor decision by Kreitz gave Revelstoke its first goal just over two minutes into the second period. Kreitz inexplicably passed the puck behind the net to former Leaf David Lenzin, who sent it on to teammate Birk for an open-net goal and a 1-0 Grizzlies’ lead.
Kreitz looked more like himself later on during a Revelstoke penalty shot. Dylan Devers was awarded the penalty, but Kreitz stared him down and Devers never even got the shot off.
Nelson native Tenzin Mint took over for Kreitz and made an impression in the third period. He had to do a Superman pose to poke away a Revelstoke shot and what looked to be a sure goal.
But the Grizzlies got one by Mint minutes later. The Leafs were on the power play when the play returned to their zone. A Grizzlies’ point shot was stopped by Mint but sent back to the net by Kaeden Patrick for the 2-0 advantage.
They went up 3-0 with 5:54 left in regulation. Patrick was left unchallenged in front of the Nelson net to bang another rebound past Mint.
Nelson finally got on the board with one minute to go. Paulovich was in front of the net to redirect a Kaleb Comishin point shot for a goal. On a mostly meaningless night, the goal was Pyrrhic victory at best.
Leaflets: Ryan Cooper, who was second in team scoring with 22 goals and 19 assists, will miss the first two months of the season to attend school and is hoped to be back in November. …The game featured five local rookies. Forwards Noah Quinn and Joe Davidson, defencemen Amran Bhabra and Reid Vulcano and goaltender Tenzin Mint suited up for Nelson. “I think it’s important to note those are 2003-born players and they handled themselves awfully well out there,” said DiBella. “It just goes to show that Nelson Minor Hockey is alive and well.” … Nelson won its opening exhibition game 5-0 on the road Thursday against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. They next conclude a home-and-away at Revelstoke on Saturday before finishing the pre-season Tuesday on home ice against the Nitehawks.