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Leafs look to right the wrongs of the past, open KIJHL season against Murdoch rivals

Bruce Fuhr
By Bruce Fuhr
September 9th, 2016

Hockey and winning have always been associated with Nelson Leafs teams.

But it’s been seven years since the Leafs won the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League title.

And the 2010 campaign was the last time a Nelson team made it out of the Murdoch Division.

Which seems like an eternity for loyal Green and White fans used to watching hockey in March.

However, there’s appears to be slight bit of hope on the horizon.

Nelson has been on a serious rebuild since dumping its coach midway through last season.

And the new coaching staff has already instilled a different atmosphere in the dressing room.

“Our recruiting has turned out to be successful in the areas we were looking to fill within our team structure,” said Assistant coach and GM Sean Dooley on the on the eve of the season opener Friday in Fruitvale against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks — a team Nelson must tame if the franchise wants to relive the glory years of past championship seasons.

“We have a good balance of offensive and defensive minded players. We wanted speed, size and the hardest working team we could find and I believe we’ve obtained that within this group of players.”

Head coach and Director of Player Personnel Mario DiBella likes the fact Nelson opens against the team that knocked the club out of the playoffs last season.

“There’s always incentive to beat Beaver Valley for a number of reasons . . . none more than attitude,” DiBella explained.

“At the end of the we all need to answer to a code of conduct which I don’t always agree transpires in (Beaver Valley). So from a personal level it would do me great service to see us win every time we play BV this year.”

Nelson coaches have logged more miles than Greyhound finding the right players with skill and character to fill out the roster.

A handful of those players — netminder Ben Kelsch, defenceman Aigne McGeady-Bruce and forwards Sawyer Hunt and Colum McGauley are local grads from Nelson Minor Hockey.

DiBella also recruited 16-year-old forward Ryan Piva and defenceman Brendan McKay from Trail.

“I feel we’ve got a great group of local players on the roster,” said DiBella, promising to return to the days of Simon Wheeldon coaching by rolling all four lines and defence during the games this season.

“I’ve always been a huge proponent of looking after your own and I’m confident the locals we have will play a big part of our success and help our team.”

Nelson, with 22 players on the roster, opens Friday in Beaver Valley before heading south of the 49th parallel to face the Spokane Braves Saturday.

Leafs fans see the Green and White for the first time this season Friday, September 16 at the NDCC Arena against Spokane.

DiBella said 20-year-old Jason Sandhu, acquired in an off-season deal with Ridge Meadows of the Pacific Junior Hockey League, will get the start in goal against the Hawks.

“He’s been terrific, not only in the exhibition games but also in practice,” DiBella exclaimed.

“If it was normal to put a “C” on a goalie, then I’d have one on Jason . . . he’s just been exceptional as a leader for far this season.”

The undefeated record during the exhibition season only proves the Leafs may have got the jump on some teams in the league.

However, it’s a long season, and the real season doesn’t start until February, when the post season arrives.

Which means some Leaf fans may want to see a little more proof of the turnaround before jumping completely on the bandwagon.

“We will build off out exhibition momentum although we will see the real teams going into regular season now that most rosters have been solidified,” Dooley explained.

“That being said I believe everyone will notice the change in structure and the exciting product that will be on the ice.”

Can’t wait.

Go Leafs Go!

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