With the Nelson Junior Leafs riding a seven-game winning streak, it’s hard not to start talking about a championship season.
“We are building a winning atmosphere in the room,” defenceman Cam Weir told the Star after Sunday’s 6-1 win over the Sicamous Eagles. “We are coming together as a team and getting used to winning.”
Since October 12 the Leafs have only lost two games and managed 10 wins while thrusting themselves to the top of the Neil Murdoch Division standings. Even the two losses — 1-0 to the Castlegar Rebels and 6-4 to the North Okanagan Knights — could have easily been wins.
“Hard work is the key… on and off the ice,” said Leafs forward Jacob Boyczuk who registered a hat trick in Friday night’s 12-0 demolition of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
Boyczuk was traded to the Leafs from the Nitehawks over the summer for defenceman Walker Sidoni.
The Trail native was part of the Beaver Valley team that captured the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League championship last season and lost in the Cyclone Taylor Cup that determines the Junior B provincial champion.
Having been part of a winning dressing room already, the power forward said he feels his new squad has the makings of a championship team.
“Most definitely,” Boyczuk said. “I think this team can go farther than that team. We are planning on winning the Cyclone.”
Boyczuk is part of one of the top lines in the KIJHL with Colton Schell and Colton McCarthy. Though the line has powered its way through the first part of the season, Boyczuk said the key to the team’s success goes well beyond who is leading the team in points.
“We have good depth,” said Boyczuk. “Our third and fourth lines are very good. When that happens you are in a pretty good position.”
The Leafs’ talent runs so deep that it has put coach Frank Maida in the position of having to rotate players through games that most would be surprised to see sitting in the stands. Against Sicamous on Sunday, both Seth Schmidt and JJ Beitel were healthy scratches. Weir said instead of looking at the rotation during healthy times as a negative, the team is using it as motivation to challenge each other.
“It keeps us pushing hard in practice,” said Weir. “We are a deep team, those are two great players sitting the stands. That pushes you to do better and pushes the entire team to do better. We all know the other guy can do the job and we are confident in each other.”
Four of the Leafs’ past five victories have been against some of the top teams in the league. They have crushed Beaver Valley twice, edged the Kamloops Storm and decisively beat Sicamous as part of the seven-game run. This weekend the competition is not as stiff — Grand Forks and Golden — but the team is not resting on its recent success.
“We have to prepare the same if we want to keep winning,” said Leafs rookie Matt MacDonald. “We have had some close games against Grand Forks, so we can’t take them for granted.”
The Leafs visit Grand Forks on Friday and on Saturday host the Golden Rockets at the Nelson and District Community Complex. The puck drops on Saturday at 7 p.m.