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KIJHL opts to put 'development' back into league; Leafs open training camp Friday

Bruce Fuhr
By Bruce Fuhr
August 10th, 2016

The calendar may have played a big part in the decision, but the brain trust of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League will want to take the credit for pushing for more “development” of hockey players after deciding to reduce the number of regular season and playoff games during June’s Annual General Meeting in Osoyoos.

Despite some opposition, owners overwhelmingly voted in favour — 18-2 — of reducing the number of regular games from 52 to 47.

Leafs Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Mario DiBella was, and always has been, a proponent for less games and more practice time, voted in favour of the reduction, which also sees rounds two and three of the playoffs now a best-of-five series instead of seven-game sets.

“We voted in favour of reducing the schedule,” said DiBella as the Leafs prepare to open training camp on the 2016-17 season Friday at the NDCC Arena.

“This is a development league and we have players either in high school or college travelling all over the place to play games on a Tuesday and Wednesday night when there really isn’t that many fans in the stands.”

The reduction means no need for teams to jam mid-week games into the schedule to complete franchise commitments.

Instead, teams have the lion’s share of games being played on weekends — like Nelson, which has 20-plus games slotted into Friday and Saturday night.

At the same time, the league decided to play a conference only schedule, meaning hockey fans in Nelson will not see any teams from the Okanagan/Shuswap during the regular season.

Owners opted for the unbalanced schedule to save significant dollars in terms of travel while at the same time allow for established rivalries to grow even stronger.

DiBella believes this move was not necessary.

“We could still could have played those teams in the other conference but teams decided against it,” he said.

The Leafs, playing five of eight games away from the Heritage City in September, begin the season on the road September 9th in Fruitvale against Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

Nelson opens the home season Friday, September 16 at the NDCC Arena with the Spokane Braves providing the opposition.

The Leafs play mostly on the road during the first four months of the season, before getting a solid taste of home cooking in January. Fact is Nelson plays 10 straight at home, starting with the New Year’s Eve contest against Beaver Valley and stretching to February 5 against Castlegar Rebels.

The final game of the season for Nelson is February 18 when the Leafs visit the Grand Forks Border Bruins in the Boundary City.

Playoffs follow, with the KIJHL Champion being crowned before the April 6-9, 2017 Cyclone Taylor Cup is hosted in Creston by the Thunder Cats.

Leafs Training Camp Begins Friday

Keeping with the quirky season, Nelson Leafs host its training camp in mid-August instead of the traditional Labour Day Weekend.

Leafs coach Mario DiBella, taking to the ice this weekend, decided to make the change due to the crazy start to the KIJHL season.

The change also guarantees the Leafs a full camp, as players will want to use the ice time to prepare for upcoming Junior A Camps.

“The camp is full,” DiBella said. “We’re really excited with the talent we’re bringing in which should push the returning players.”

Camp, under the guidance of DiBella and Coach and General Manager Sean Dooley and Assistant Coach Isaac MacLeod, runs Friday through Sunday at the NDCC Arena.

Nelson’s first exhibition game is Tuesday, August 30 at the NDCC Arena against Castlegar.

Game time is 7 p.m.

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