After an aborted season and a summer of new COVID-19 rules, the Nelson Leafs are hoping they’ve navigated the tricky business of putting a roster together during the pandemic.
Twenty-eight players hit the ice over the weekend at the Nelson and District Community Complex to vie for roster spots at the Leafs’ training camp.
That anyone showed up at all is a testament to the work done by the Leafs’ staff. Head coach Mario DiBella said the scouting done by general manager Lance Morey, assistant coach and GM Adam DiBella, and himself was difficult after the last KIJHL season was cancelled just three games into the campaign.
“There was a lot of soul searching as to how we were going to get that done this year,” said DiBella on Saturday.
“Adam and Lance and I have done an awfully good job of reaching out to a number of people and making sure that all our connections were feeding names and video of players that had the potential for playing with us.”
A typical training camp would have nervous parents in the stands and volunteers chipping in. On Saturday it was just the two DiBellas and Morey, the latter of whom was called on to work the scoreboard during scrimmages.
The number of players who attended were also lower than previous years. DiBella said six players had dropped out for various reasons the week prior, but that he thought other teams in the Junior B league were having a harder time filling out their rosters than Nelson was.
“It’s been difficult. No one’s ever had to deal with this previous to now,” he said. “I think that for those of us who have done our job recruiting, I think that will be fine. I think for people who are late to the game or may not have had the opportunities to get out to a number of camps, they’re going to be in tough.”
The Leafs have shown tantalizing teams the previous two seasons.
In March 2020, Nelson went undefeated in the first round and then through two games on the road against Beaver Valley in the second round before the provincial lockdown cancelled the post-season.
Then last year, Nelson rolled over opponents in its first three games by outscoring them 24-7 before the season was again scrapped.
This time around, there’s an expectation the regular season will be played to its conclusion in February followed by playoffs.
The KIJHL has mandated all players, bench staff and on-ice officials must be fully vaccinated by the start of the regular season. The province, meanwhile, has mandated masks and the vaccine card be present for spectators, while only up to 50 per cent of the NDCC stands can be filled during games.
That should, the Leafs hope, pave the way to a long, successful season.
Nelson kicks off exhibition play with a home-and-away series against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Friday and Saturday before playing another two-game set against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats on Sept. 24 and 25.
Then, fingers crossed, the Leafs open the regular season at home against the Nitehawks on Oct. 1 followed by another game in Nelson against the Fernie Ghostriders on Oct. 2.
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