A new season of hockey is about to begin as the Nelson Leafs open their 2014 training camp tomorrow. There will be plenty of new faces on the ice, including head coach and general manager David McLellan, who only arrived in Nelson on Tuesday night.
The coach is excited about hitting the ice to begin evaluating the 45 players who will be trying to earn a spot on the roster.
“We have a lot of work to do on the roster, so we’ll be taking 21 players on and see where we are at after camp,” said the new coach.
McLellan said he is a big believer in defence.
“I’m big on defensive zone play — that we build from our own zone out. After that it’s about using speed, chip pucks through the neutral zone and use size and strength to go to the net. Starting in our own zone out is really the model of most good junior hockey programs.”
While he’s had little time to prepare, McLellan said there’s a benefit for him having limited knowledge of the players. He doesn’t enter the situation with any preconceived notions.
“It’s a fresh start for everybody, including players that may have had some difficulties last year.”
He said he has called several veteran players to give them “the heads up about what we are trying to do.”
He is expecting 11 returning players to be at camp today. That leaves a lot of open roster spots to fill. However, being a returning player isn’t a guarantee of anything.
“I’m expecting players to come in here and work hard and move away from the past. The past is the past. Guys have to come in here and earn their jobs.”
He said camp will be challenging for all of the players. “It will be survival of the fittest for most of them.”
While he has yet to solidify his coaching staff, McLellan said he expects to have that situation locked up in the coming days.
McLellan said last year’s assistant coach, Sean Dooley, has yet to confirm if he plans to return to the Leafs. Work and family obligations always play a part in deciding whether you can commit the time to coaching explained McLellan.
“He’ll be for sure welcome back.”
Today’s camp begins with a player and family orientation. Then on-ice testing – foot speed and basic endurance.
“Then we are really into game and practice, game and practice and the practices will be really important. They are going to be challenging.”
The coach said players will no immediately that he is a professional and a “strong communicator” with the players.
“They will know exactly what I want them to do and what my expectations are.”
When he first meets players, McLellan said their are four categories that he looks at — skating, skills, size/strength, and hockey sense.
“I look for three out of four of those characteristics in a player right away.”
Different coaches want different attributes. McLellan said he looks for a combination of skating and size first. “If I get a player with all four of the categories, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.
Training camp begins today and runs until Sunday. The Leafs first preseason home game is September 6.