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Despite the late start, coach McLellan eager to begin as skipper of the Good Ship Nelson Leafs

Bruce Fuhr
By Bruce Fuhr
August 18th, 2014

Dave McLellan knows a thing of two about coaching, having skippered teams at both BC Junior A and Junior B levels as well as overseas.

However, the 48-year-old coach from Surrey had better reach long and hard into his coaching bag of tricks as the latest candidate to lead the Nelson Leafs hockey club is getting a late, and we mean late, start on the upcoming Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season.

“I’m really apprehensive about (getting the job so late),” McLellan said from his Surrey home, “I mean, coaches really want to start recruiting back in March, April, May . . . at the latest.

“This is a bigger challenge to recruit properly at this late stage (of the offseason).”

McLellan comes to the Leafs after Nelson’s top candidate to replace former coach and GM, Frank Maida, Matt Hughes, decided to dump the Leafs for another job in July.

Hughes, who won the job over McLellan and two other candidates, decided to take a director’s position with the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna.

To say the Leafs were in panic mode after Hughes informed the team would be the understatement of the brief KIJHL season.

However, McLellan is confident he has the tools, and contacts, to find the right players when Nelson opens training camp at the end of August.

“I’m not really that worried,” said McLellan. “Having been a BCHL coach you need to have a strong recruiting network, and I have that. I used the same recruiting network in the PJHL (Pacific Junior Hockey League) to attract players to a very solid program.”

“I’ve already started that process and believe I have three or four very different players who have signed up to come to main camp already so the process is going,” McLellan added.

McLellan has extensive history in coaching and teaching the basics fundamentals of the game. The father of one was with the Burnaby (now Coquitlam) Express from April 2005 to February 2010, heading the coaching staff in 2007.

He then coached the Delta Ice Hawks for two seasons where he took the franchise to the PJHL title in 2012.

Last season McLellan, who also owns Top Shelf Hockey, stepped back into the Minor Hockey ranks in North Vancouver after a job with the Surrey Eagles fell through, coaching the Midget A squad to the final four of the provincials.

“One of my biggest hurdles I face is getting in touch with existing, returning players which I don’t have a full grasp on yet, but I’ll have to deal with that,” explained McLellan, who spent the past few weeks taking a team of 14-year-olds from Vancouver on a hockey trip to China.

“I think it will be a slower process selecting this team. I’ll have to be careful making commitments to players, which will be a little bit different process will take place to build a team for this year.”

Leafs open camp August 29 at the NDCC Arena.

McLellan is hopeful to have enough players to fill three, if not, four teams for main camp.

First exhibition game for Nelson is Wednesday, September 3 in Fruitvale against the defending KIJHL, Cyclone and Keystone Cup champion, Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

Nelson travels to Creston Friday September 5 before hosting the Thunder Cats Saturday, September 6 at 7 p.m..

Nelson concludes the preseason Sunday, September 7 against Beaver Valley at home.

Nelson opens the regular season at home, Friday, September 12 against the same Nitehawks.

But why, after being shunned during the final round of interviews, would a coach of McLellan’s experience decide to give the Leafs a second chance?

“The big thing that attracted me was the history of the Leafs,” answered McLellan, already in the Heritage City to begin his new job.

“To be quite frank there a many teams in the KIJHL I wouldn’t have applied for the job. But this job is about the town of Nelson and the history of the Leafs, which is run more like a Junior A franchise so that was a big thing that prompted my application.”

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