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Leafs may need to stay after class following mid-season report card

Goals could be a lot harder to find if Connor McLaughlin can't return to the lineup this season. — Bruce Fuhr photo

By Bruce Fuhr,
The Nelson Daily Sports

For many Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams, the Christmas Holiday break is the unofficial mid-way point to the season.

So as the Leafs prepare to make a stretch run during the final seven weeks of the season — first game tonight in Castlegar followed by the New Year's Eve 1 p.m. matchup Friday at the NDCC Arena against Spokane — what better time for the Green and White to receive their mid-season report card, compliments the sports department at The Nelson Daily.

Coach Chris Shaw C

When the Leaf skipper accepted the job to take over from legend Simon Wheeldon in the spring Chris Shaw probably didn’t expect the road to be filled with so many potholes.

It took the Leafs five games to register a victory.

There was the suspension to Shaw seven games into the season for using “non-approved – by Hockey Canada – players.”

There is the inability of the team to win inside the division — Nelson is a dismal 1-8 against the heavyweights in the Murdoch, Castlegar Rebels and Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

The team has been outscored 42-16 in those games.

However, the former Okanagan Hockey Association coach believes he has assembled the right pieces to a machine intent on making a stretch run starting tonight in Castlegar against the Rebels.

Leafs fans will see if the recent moves, combined with quick learning of some of the younger players, pays off come playoff time.

Goaltending C+

Marcus Beesley and Darren Hogg have given the Leafs on most nights the opportunity to win. 

Hogg, from Penticton, has the better numbers, with nine wins in 14 attempts and a respectable 2.88 goals against average, but Beesley has earned the most starts with 19 games played.

Unfortunately for the two rookie backstops, the Leafs don’t score a lot of goals — Nelson is 13th in league scoring with 3.28 goals per game — so keeping the goals against down is a must if the Heritage City franchise has any chance of winning.

Defence C

Like the team, the blueline core, led by captain Taylor O’Neil, didn’t have the greatest of starts.

O’Neil’s partner in crime Tyler Parfeniuk went down early in the season with an injury, missing seven games.

Shaw’s prize recruit, 6’4”, 205-pound mobile defenceman Raymond Reimer has played only six games, slowing the progression of the team to move the puck up the ice with any great deal of confidence.

Those injuries forced rookies Blake Arcuri and 16-year-old Walker Sidoni along with former Penticton Laker Riley Henderson into the fold a little quicker than Shaw probably would have hoped.

This group, that includes Braeden Hikichi, needs to be better, especially against those snipers from Beaver Valley and Castlegar.

Forwards C-minus

Except for Gavin Currie, the Leafs need everyone on the forward line to be better sooner than later.

Currie, 16 goals and 26 assists and points in 15 of the last 19 games, has almost double the points as the next top scorer on the team, Colton Schell.

Teams are quickly going to realize shut down Currie and the Leafs offence dries up like water in the Sahara Desert. And now with the possibility that veteran Connor McLaughlin could be lost for the remainder of the season to injury, goals could be at a premium.

Two possible players that could pick up the slack are Joel Stewart and Brennan Forman — acquired in separate deals by Shaw.

However, the two recruits have yet to strike any fear into opposition defences with only three goals between them.

Overall record to date: 17-4-0-1

Nelson lost only 10 games during entire season a year ago, finishing 12 points ahead of second-place Castlegar Rebels.

This year Nelson will be hard-pressed to catch the Rebels, and must play better to avoid finishing behind Spokane in the race for third.