Heading into training camp last week, Frank Maida didn’t know what to expect. A week later, he expects to ice a very competitive Nelson Junior Leafs team for the 2011-12 season.
“I’m feeling really good about things,” said the Leafs head coach and general manager who is embarking on his first season as the team’s guiding force. “I was afraid we were going to be a small team, but we’re a good sized team. And we have some speed coming back from last year and some new guys that have that in their game. It’s pretty exciting.”
After the team’s first two pre-season games with the Castlegar Rebels — a 6-3 loss Wednesday night in Castlegar and a home game last night (after Star deadline) — Maida and his coaching staff now have the unenviable task of trimming the roster.
“We want the kids to show they really want to be here which means working consistently for 60 minutes,” Maida said of what he expects at this stage of the pre-season. “Now the bar is raised and playing against Junior B teams lets us know whether the kids are ready for this level. We need to know that we are doing what is best for the team and the players.”
There are plenty of reasons for Maida to feel optimistic about the upcoming season and it starts between the pipes with 20-year-old Kootenay International Junior Hockey League veteran Andrew Walton. Acquired in a trade with the Fernie Ghostriders in the off-season, Walton has quickly proven he will be an important team leader this season.
“We’re very happy with Andrew’s play on the ice and what he is bringing to the dressing room off the ice,” Maida said of his goaltender.
Another reason for Maida’s enthusiasm is the number of returning players from last year’s squad already in camp and the possibility of even more returning after Junior A cuts this weekend.
Six veterans who are sure to make an impact and already in camp include Tyler Parfeniuk, Riley Henderson, Patrick Martens, Colton Schell, Blake Arcuri and Colton Malmsten.
Those still with Junior A squads include goaltenders Marcus Beesley and Darren Hogg, Walker Sidoni, Evan Moir, Marcus Dahl, Adam Wheeldon and Cameron Dobransky. There is a chance some of this group might be returning to Nelson if they fail to crack the line-up at the higher level.
Players gone from last year’s roster include four who saw their junior careers expire last season — Taylor O’Neil, Gavin Currie, Joel Stewart and Dustin Johnson. Also not returning to the green and white are Raymond Reimer, Cody Abbey and Jeff Hodgkinson.
There are also a number of newcomers who have been showing they will make an impact, including Nicholas Newman and Taylor Carribeau who have made the journey north from California.
The Leafs open the regular season next Friday in Castlegar. The home opener is Saturday at the Nelson and District Community Complex.