Nelson Leafs main training camp gets underway at the Nelson and District Community Complex next week. It’s a busy time for coach and general manager David McLellan who is looking to select at least 21 players for the Junior B hockey team.
The camp will have 40 players competing in the third and final camp for a spot on the roster. McLellan has already carded 12 players from April and May training camps but says they still need to match the level of play that got them this far.
With dozens of players from all over North America competing for 21 to 23 spots on the team, McLellan said there are no guarantees even if a player has already been carded.
“They can be released,” said McLellan, if their performance is substandard during the camp that runs next Tuesday through Thursday.
“Last year I walked into this on Aug. 24 and it was almost a given if you showed up in Nelson you were on the team, but that is not the case this year,” he said, adding that last year’s returning players are excited about this change too.
McLellan’s recruiting began last August when he first arrived and involved various tactics. He attended almost every BCHL team’s camps in the spring. As well he activated his North American-wide recruiting network that includes family advisors, players, agents, and coaches of various junior levels.
“I’ve sourced out recommendations for players who should be able to play at our level effectively,” he told the Star. Through this he brought new players to the spring training camps. The September camp will be a combination of those players, new recruits and players returning from last season.
McLellan’s biggest project during the recruitment season was to fill their defence, which will be entirely new. With an unproven blue line, McLellan said he will probably want to sign seven to eight defencemen in total, six of whom are already carded.
“It just depends on who comes back from the BCHL or not,” he said referring to players trying to break into the Junior A league. But thus far, he is “very comfortable” with what he has recruited. And he’s still looking to acquire an experienced defenceman at some point in the season to stabilize that group.
From the 2014/15 season. Tamara Hynd photo
This could be one of several positive changes for the team as they began last year’s season with only 17 carded players and one goalie. The Leafs’ new assistant coach, Nelson resident Greg Andrusak, could be another edge for the 2015/16 season. Andrusak’s professional career included playing in the NHL for Pittsburgh and Toronto.
“Greg brings lots of experience,” said McLellan, “not only as a player, but he has coached quite a bit.”
Andrusak coached within Nelson Minor Hockey and for the Leafs as an assistant in the past when Simon Wheeldon was the head coach.
“A lot of the players I’ve brought in have played in high-end programs and I want to make sure we have a strong development model for our athletes. I think Greg brings a lot of that with his work though minor hockey developing players.
“Greg brings an element I was looking for from the fact he played as a defenceman. My chief focus with Greg is to focus on the development stage to play defence. Playing defence in junior hockey is very challenging. The learning curve is different than a forward. We want to make sure we are developing the right skill set and right attitude so I think Greg brings lots of tangible skills for that.”
The three day camp will have both on-ice and off-ice components. Camp participants, who range in age from 16 to 20, will be divided into two groups: one for practice and the other will prepare for an exhibition game which will include the top recruits.
The focus on the ice will be conditioning and foot speed, which McLellen said is a requirement.
“Players will not make it on our team if they are out of shape,” he said. “We don’t fool around with conditioning and our players know that.”
Dryland training will focus on cardio, strength and training.
It’s too early to tell what this season’s team is going to look like, the coach said.
“As a junior hockey coach when the rubber hits the ice, then I’ll know,” said McLellan. “Our general depth is quite strong and we’re looking forward to a very good year. We’ve got a lot of excited players coming from all parts of North America to compete for jobs so that’s another good thing and we have good representation across the province as well.”
Last season the Leafs finished fourth in the Neil Murdoch Division, despite a winning record of 23-17-2-6. They were ousted in the first round of the KIJHL playoffs by Beaver Valley in five games.
Returning players include Blair Andrews, Branden Chow, Michael Crawford, Tyler Fyfe, Austin Lindsay, Race Miller, Tim Nicholas, Samuel Weber, and Dylan Williamson.
The Nelson Leafs’ first exhibition game of the season is against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Nelson and District Community Complex. The regular season begins on Sept.11 in Nelson against Kelowna Chiefs. For a complete schedule visit www.nelsonleafs.ca.