Hunter Floris wanted to have fun playing hockey again, so he decided to join the Nelson Leafs in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL).
The Vanderhoof, B.C. native had spent the last two seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Olds Grizzlys. Floris experienced team struggles on the ice and multiple coaching changes off it, including before he arrived. He got lots of ice time and worked hard to get better from the previous year, and his efforts were rewarded last season when he was named team captain. Another coaching change came at the trade deadline, but the team still made the playoffs. At the start of this season, things were looking great, but Floris was going through some personal problems.
“I thought Junior A hockey would be too much for me to handle at this moment,” he says. “The decision was to go play Junior B and take some of that pressure off. I want to figure myself out outside of the game.”
He’s part of a Leafs roster loaded with Junior A experience.
All five 20-year-olds (Matthew Byrne, Brandon Costa, Ethan McLaughlin and Liam McLaren) have played at that level. He credits that experience to helping with the strong start he had to the season prior to the league because of the current pandemic.
“Playing with Byrne and Costa, McLaughlin and McLaren, it makes the game really easy and really fun,” says Floris, who has four goals and five points in three games. “They get me the puck and it’s just easy to play the game with them.”
Since the Leafs had been skating for two months, Floris felt the group was really gelling. The players are close and he was playing well, lining up with Lane Goodwin and Joe Davidson, who returned from the Merritt Centennials extended camp.
“We’re clicking and we’re playing really well together,” says Floris. “We’re producing. It’s just simple. They’re just guys I know where they are going to be. We can make things happen.”
Floris sees himself as a goal scorer – he had 38 in 106 regular season AJHL games. He also likes being a leader in the dressing room, pushing his teammates to be better. He wants them to push him as he wants to improve and help the Leafs win the Teck Cup.
“My skating could use some work. I really want to focus on my physical strength and learning how to take a hit on the boards and in open ice,” he says, evaluating his game. “I really want to get that down so I am able to protect myself. I also want to be able to relax in certain situations and have more focus in others. I also want to focus on a lot more mental challenges in the game that I never focused on.”
Joining the Leafs gave Floris the chance to return to familiar surroundings and reconnect with friends in the West Kootenays. He played with the B.C. Major Midget League’s Kootenay Ice as a 16-year-old and suited up with the Castlegar Rebels as an affiliate player. Having a pair of good friends – Nemethy, a fellow Vanderhoof native and Goodwin from Fort. St. James – already on the Leafs roster made joining the team an easy choice.
Floris knows the KIJHL has top end players who could play anywhere if they wanted to.
“It’s a league that is very competitive,” he says. “There are still lots of good players and the physicality is good. It’s a league that everyone is able to push themselves to be better. It’s a league where I thought it would give me the best chance to have fun again with the game.”