Call it playoffs in October. Over the next 10 days the Nelson Junior Leafs will be embroiled in a schedule reserved for the end of the season. Starting tonight they will play an unprecedented seven games by the time next Sunday evening arrives.
“It is what it is and we have to deal with it,” says Leafs head coach Frank Maida. “It’s unfortunate in some ways, but we are heading into this with a positive approach. The kids are going get a taste of what playoffs are like, not even 10 games into the season.”
The run begins with three straight home games this weekend starting with Grand Forks paying a visit to the Nelson and District Community Complex tonight at 7 p.m. The Creston Valley Thunder arrive Saturday and the Osoyoos Coyotes touch down on Sunday afternoon. The home stretch runs into Tuesday when Neil Murdoch division rivals Beaver Valley come to Nelson.
“We have a fairly young team and they will get a pretty good idea of what it’s going to take,” says Maida. “We’re going to have to really be physically and mentally ready for this stretch.”
The seven games wrap up with contests against Grand Forks on Thursday in the Boundary city, another home date against the Kimberley Dynamiters next Friday and a Sunday afternoon trip to Spokane.
“It’s a good mix of opponents and it’s good that we don’t know the teams at this point,” says Maida. “Not knowing what to expect gives us the opportunity not to worry about them and just worry about our game.”
The rigourous early test comes at an opportune time. The Leafs have jumped out to an impressive 3-1-0-1 start to the campaign and find themselves atop the Neil Murdoch Division.
The strong start is a pleasant surprise for Maida, who was thrown into the head coach/general manager job midway through the summer when last year’s bench boss Chris Shaw departed for the assistant coach position with the Vernon Vipers. Without an ability to do much recruiting of his own, Maida has iced a team that looks to be very competitive.
“Our young 17-year-olds have really stepped up and our vets are taking the leadership we expect from them,” Maida says of the current line-up.
Early season standouts have included newcomers Nik Newman, Matti Jmaeff and Max Mois.
“All three have already shown they are going to progress really well during the year,” says Maida. “We’re very pleased with their play.”
After a solid pair of games last weekend, the Leafs have also decided to ink back-up goaltender Patrick Defoe who will share crease duties with veteran Andrew Walton.
Another addition to the line-up is 20-year-old defenceman Jonathon Petrash who played with the Leafs in the 2009-10 season.
One of the upsides of the busy stretch will be an opportunity to solidify the new systems Maida and his coaching staff have been working on at this early juncture of the season.
”The main focus on our system is speed…utilizing our speed in all ends of the ice,” he says. “We have a very, very quick team and if we play our game we will be successful more times than not.”
At the end of the 10 days Maida hopes his team will emerge in mid-season form.
“Hopefully that will be in our favour,” says Maida. “We’ll have a quite a few games under our belt and the systems we are implementing will be all ready to go.”