Leafs coaching staff busy finding right pieces to return franchise to glory years
The Nelson Leafs begin building toward the upcoming Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season by hosting its Annual General Meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the NDCC.
However, since the Leafs were ousted from postseason way back in February, the coaching staff has been busy pounding the pavement in search of players to fill the roster for the upcoming campaign.
The Nelson Daily Editor Bruce Fuhr spoke with Leaf coach Mario DiBella to get a gauge on the Leafs off season, especially after the Green and White completed a year that saw the club finish the year with a record below .500, fourth in the Neil Murdoch Division and a first round exit from the playoffs.
TND: Can you explain how the off-season recruiting program has been progressing?
Coach Mario DiBella: We’ve been very active and have got a number of players that will be coming to our camp, some whom we have committed to . . .. I can tell you that the team that you’ll see this year will be distinctly different from the team that finished the season last year. (Coach) Sean (Dooley) and I five have attended camps in Penticton — Academies Championships — West Kelowna, the Midget Provincials in Calgary and BCHL camps in Salmon Arm and Trail. We’ve seen a lot of hockey players last few months.
TND: What type of player is the hockey club looking for?
Coach Mario DiBella: The first thing we look at is does the player have a passion to play the game and that’s demonstrated by how he plays on the ice. Do you play the game the right way or do you cut corners? As a defenceman are you a player that leaves the (blue)line early because you’re not confident of your backwards skating or are you the guy that closes the gap and takes that chance to make the right play? We’re looking for players that want to move forward with their hockey careers. They’re not looking at Junior B as the end goal and have a plan to move forward past Junior B and paint their success not just in hockey but also as their life moves forward as a young adult.
TND: The Leafs had to cancel the scheduled camp in Calgary. Why does the coaching staff feel it’s necessary to recruit in Alberta?
Coach Mario DiBella: Again we see that Alberta market as an up-tapped resource. I know some of the teams in the KI from the East Kootenay recruit heavily in Alberta. There are a lot of great hockey players that come from Alberta as seen in the (WHL) draft this year. Alberta has a great midget program and many of those players want to get into the BC Hockey League and see the KI as way to get into the BCHL.
TND: Do you have any players returning from last season?
Coach Mario DiBella: At this point, we’re waiting on players. We have a lot of interest from players that played with us last year and wish them all the best at camps this fall. If those players find a fit as a top four D or top six forward position than I suggest they should stay with the team. However, if they’re not sitting in those positions then they should come back and get year, or partial year, to develop to get into the right situation to allow them to move forward with their hockey career.
TND: What are your thoughts of having the entire coaching staff — Mario DiBella, Sean Dooley and Isaac Macleod — return from the end of last season?
Coach Mario DiBella: I’m really excited about responsibilities we’re assigning each person and we’re going to see a team that not only has success on the ice but we’re going to be more involved with the community and focusing on education and citizenship. We’re all excited about the respective roles each coach will assume in rejuvenating this franchise.
TND: After last season’s debacle on and off the ice, what can fans expect?
Coach Mario DiBella: We’re all very excited about upcoming season. With the players we want back from last year’s team and the one’s we’ve recruited we’re going to have a dynamic squad with a lot of skill, size and speed and toughness that will make us a real hard team to play against.