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KIJHL Leafs dealt huge blow after coach Matt Hughes resigns

Bruce Fuhr
By Bruce Fuhr
July 28th, 2014

The Nelson Leafs were dealt a huge blow during the weekend when current skipper Matt Hughes resigned his position as head coach and General Manager of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League team.

Hughes, who was selected to the position from a list of more than 25 applicants in May of this year to replace Frank Maida, called team president Larry Martel Saturday to inform the head of the Leaf board of the decision to take a director’s position with the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna.

“It’s quite shocking to us,” Nelson Leaf board member Michelle MacLean told The Nelson Daily Monday.

“Here we are 36 days out from our first exhibition game so this is not what we wanted to hear.”

“But we have a very solid board and club in place and had a lot of interest in the position so we feel we’re still on track, but yes, this does cause a bump in the road for us.”

Hughes, originally from Kamloops, came to the Leafs with very high accolades from former coaches and hockey personal in the junior ranks.

The former coach at the Okanagan Hockey School held similar positions with Dawson Creek of the North American Hockey League where he coached former Leaf Troy Petrich, Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Hockey League and was coach of the year when he skippered Columbia Valley Rockies of the Kootenay International Junior League.

Hughes spent two seasons with the Storm, one as an assistant and the 2013-14 season as head coach.

However, Hughes was fired in May after the Storm missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

“All his references spoke very highly of Matt and said we would be foolish not to hire him as coach,” Martel told The Nelson Daily at the time of the hiring of Hughes in May.

MacLean said the board would immediately reconvene the steering committee that recommended the hiring of Hughes.

We had 28 resumes when we first began the process in the spring so we’ll go back to those applications to hopefully find a coach to announce as soon as possible,” MacLean said.

MacLean said the Leaf board would make the final decision on a new coach.

Hughes, who was also penciled in to be the head coach for Nelson Minor Hockey, has been attending Junior A camps during the off season and of late, was recently guest coach at the tryout session with the Merritt Centennials of the BC Hockey League.

“This definitely leaves us in a lurch but we’re taking immediate steps to rectify this,” MacLean said. “Hopefully we’ll have a coach by the end of the week or at least someone in the interim.”

Nelson opens training camp August 29 at the NDCC Arena.

The first exhibition game is scheduled for Wednesday, September 3 at home against the defending KIJHL champion Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

The KIJHL season opens for Nelson Friday, September 12 at the NDCC Arena against the same Nitehawks.

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