It’s a three-game series of first versus worst in the Neil Murdoch Division, but the Nelson Junior Leafs are not approaching their opposition with anything other than respect.
In a strange Kootenay International Junior Hockey League regular season scheduling twist, the Leafs play the Grand Forks Border Bruins three games in a row.
“We are going to approach it as a playoff series,” said Leafs head coach Frank Maida. “We are going to go out and win all three games of the series.”
The series starts tonight in Grand Forks and will continue Friday night at the Nelson and District Community Complex. The Border Bruins will return to Nelson on Wednesday night for the final game in the set.
With only one loss in their last 14 games — that being an overtime defeat in Golden earlier this month — the Leafs have propelled themselves to the top of the division and league standings. Grand Forks once again finds itself at the bottom of the league with only three wins in 25 attempts.
Despite the different views from the standings, Maida said it would be a mistake to take wins against the Border Bruins for granted.
“You need to know who you are playing and pay attention to that, but we really only focus on our game,” said Maida. “We don’t take anybody lightly. They have won some games and played us tight. We know it’s not going to just be a case of showing up and getting the points.”
The Leafs have won all four games against Grand Forks so far this season, but none of the games have been cakewalks. In the third game of the season, the Leafs only managed a slim 2-1 victory.
Maida said Border Bruins coach Nick Deschenes deserves credit for his team playing better than they have in the last couple of seasons.
“They are well coached and the players are believing his system,” said Maida. “They are hard working, they don’t quit and they have good goaltending.”
Leafs captain Colton Schell agrees with his coach that there are no nights off.
“If you lose to Grand Forks it will just be awful for us, so we have to play our game,” said Schell. “It will be a good test for us because we know they are not the best team. If we don’t show up and play hard then we might not be coming away with three wins.”
Schell continues to lead the KIJHL in scoring, but in the past four games his production has slowed. Schell’s combination with rookie Colton McCarthy and veteran Jacob Boyczuk has worked well for most of the season, but lately they have become victims of their own success.
“Every team is on us now and we have to keep playing hard,” said Schell, who was held pointless against Spokane on Saturday and has registered only one goal in the last four games. “There is more hacking and grabbing and being talked to by the other team… we just have to play through it. I actually don’t mind it.”
The KIJHL veteran said his line needs to get back to the basics.
“We are not passing the puck as much and that is hurting our ability to produce results,” the New Westminster native said.
Despite the lack of production from the team’s top line, the wins keep coming. Schell said the ability for Maida to roll all four lines with confidence has been the key to the Leafs’ success all season.
“This is a team and right now everybody is going,” he said. “That’s a good feeling.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. tonight at the Nelson and District Community Complex.