A trade for two veterans has the Nelson Leafs hoping they’ve made a step toward skipping a roster rebuild and returning to contention next season.
Nelson acquired forward Dale Howell and goaltender Jason Sandhu from the PJHL’s Ridge Meadows Flames on Thursday in return for the rights to forward Austin Lindsay and cash considerations.
Howell, a six-foot, 170-pound Hope native, is a three-time PJHL all-star who scored 18 goals and had 23 assists in 44 games with the Flames last season. The 19-year-old has 39 goals and 71 assists in 131 career Junior B games.
“He’s a guy that we definitely want for experience, leadership and obviously something we lacked last year was on the offensive side,” said Leafs general manager Sean Dooley. “He’s a guy who’s going to add a lot of offensive punch up front.”
Sandhu, a 19-year-old from Chilliwack, recorded a 4.20 goals-against average and .892 save percentage in 24 games played with the Flames last season.
But it was his 2.87 GAA and .924 save percentage during seven playoff games that prompted Dooley and head coach Mario DiBella to make a move for him.
“Seeing him play previously in Columbia Valley a few years ago, he’s someone I kind of had my eye on the last few seasons anyway,” said Dooley. “It just came down to it that we got him in Nelson now.”
Dooley said the 6-4, 215-pound netminder will compete for a starting job with Leafs goalie Patrick Ostermann and prospect Curt Doyle. “We didn’t want to be searching for a goalie at Christmas. This way we have a lot of good options and regardless who is in the starting position, we’re going to have a good guy in there with what we already have and what we’re bringing in.”
Lindsay, who missed most of last season with an upper-body injury, had one goal and 10 assists in 19 games during his third year in Nelson.
Dooley said he reached out to Lindsay on Wednesday night for approval prior to making the deal with the Flames. “He’s been a great player for us. We’ve really enjoyed him, but he wasn’t sure if he was going to play hockey this year. … He’s done a lot for the Nelson Leafs.”
The Leafs expect to lose some players to Junior A teams, but Dooley said Thursday’s trade represents a show of intent to compete next season after being swept in the first round of the KIJHL playoffs.
“Now we’ve got to find a couple more guys. The calibre we’re looking at is really good, but this is one of the biggest deals I see us making right now for sure. … We’re happy with this one. This is a good one. We got two really good players.”
The Leafs’ training camp is scheduled for Aug. 12 to 15.