If the Nelson Leafs want another shot at winning a championship, they’ll need to do it with an almost entirely new roster.
Coming off their best season in over a decade that ended three wins shy of a KIJHL title, the Leafs returned to the Nelson and District Community Complex ice last weekend for a training camp that would give new head coach Adam DiBella a first look at what he hopes is another dominant team.
To make another run, DiBella will rely on veterans including Johnny Carmichael, Bennett Anklewich, Tyson Lautard and Kingsley Brockett to lead what will be a roster of question marks.
“We love the 20 year olds we have, we love all our returning players, and I think the culture that we have here, we just won’t accept anything other than giving your best effort every night,” said DiBella.
Many of the key players who pushed the Revelstoke Grizzlies to five games in the Teck Cup final such as Simon Nemethy and Liam Noble have either aged out or moved on. Other standouts such as Rhett Hamilton and Bryce Sookro have signed with BCHL teams.
But DiBella said he is confident the off-season scouting done by himself and general manager Lance Morey will compensate for the turnover. The Leafs invited 34 skaters and seven goalies over the weekend to fight for what DiBella said will be 12-to-15 roster spots.
“We know that we’ll be back there fighting for a championship again this year, just with the returning players we have and the work that we’ve done over the off-season.”
The changes won’t be limited to who is on the ice.
The Leafs will likely have the youngest coaching staff in the KIJHL when they open the season. DiBella, 29, joined the team as an assistant coach in 2018 under his father Mario, who retired after last season.
For his staff, DiBella has chosen to bring back two former players. Assistant coach Brandon Costa, 22, returns for his second season behind the bench, while Tyson Soobotin, 21, will make his debut as an associate coach.
Soobotin previously played 34 games for the Leafs during the 2018-19 campaign. DiBella said he and Soobotin reconnected at Junior A camps.
“He is incredibly happy to be here and working in hockey,” said DiBella. “He’s a really hard worker and really passionate about being a part of it.”
The Leafs open the pre-season Friday in Beaver Valley before hosting the Nitehawks on Saturday. Nelson then ends exhibition play with a home-and-away against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats on Sept. 16 and 17.
Nelson kicks off the regular season at home to the Princeton Posse on Sept. 23.