Leafs build roster loaded with depth

Leading up to the start of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s 2020-21 season, which starts Nov. 13, 2020, the league is publishing team previews.

These stories will highlight areas of focus for the respective organizations as well as players. We last featured the Kimberley Dynamiters and now return to the Neil Murdoch Division to highlight the Nelson Leafs.

The Leafs finished sixth overall in the KIJHL’s regular season standings with 30 wins. They swept the Spokane Braves in the Teck Cup first round playoffs and had a 2-0 series lead on the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. Their focus heading into the 2020-21 season was continuing to upgrade their depth.

Tyler Pisiak fends off two Kelowna Chiefs to get a shot off. Dunsmoor Creative images.

“Every player, no matter where they are in the lineup, needs to understand the system, and be ready to play in any role, or situation of the game,” says assistant coach/GM Adam DiBella.

During the offseason the Leafs boosted their depth by acquiring Liam McLaren, Matthew Byrne and Ethan McLaughlin from the Summerland Steam. It’s a move the Leafs feel gives them three “elite players in our league and will each bring unique elements to our lineup.”

DiBella describes Mclaren as a strong skating, power forward with a nose for the net and plays a physical game that will wear down opponents. Byrne has a “world-class shot” and is always open in the O zone. He works hard to get open and get his shot off. McLaughlin is an elite defenceman, with elite skating ability. McLaughlin uses his foot speed and skating ability to open up the game and make plays.

The Leafs selected Simon Nemethy from the Nitehawks in the dispersal draft. Entering his third season, the Leafs expect Nemethy to provide valuable leadership. He has breakaway speed and a knack for scoring goals – he scored 16 goals last season.

The Leafs are running an extended camp heading into the season.

“This might be the only season that almost all of our systems will be in place for the first game of the year because of the additional practice time we have available,” says DiBella. “Most importantly, our players will be educated on the KIJHL’s Return to Play policies and the policies of our provincial government to ensure their health and safety.”

DiBella doesn’t believe the late season start will make keeping players motivated an issue.

“With the way the season ended last year, every returning player we have is itching to get back onto the ice,” he says.

Incoming rookies:

Malcolm Petty: Defenceman – played last season on the prep team at Pursuit of Excellence. Petty is a strong skater, who closes the gap quickly and gives the opposing team no space on the ice. He is physical and plays with an edge.

Tyson Lautard: Defenceman – played on the Prep Red team at Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA). Lautard is a mobile D-man who moves the puck efficiently. He plays a “two-way” style game and takes care of his own end.

Jaxon Moravek: Defenceman – played on the Prep Black team at OHA. Jaxon is a six-foot-five, 200-pound D-man who is physical and is tough to play against. Moravek uses his size to his advantage, and is strong on the penalty kill.

Suren Rivard: forward- played last year CRAA Blue U1. Rivard is a heart and soul type player, who was the captain of his team last season. He leads by example, and is almost always the hardest worker on the ice.

Brody Weitzel: Forward – played last season AAA Lloydminster Bobcats. Weitzel is a good skater and he works very hard. He is a strong penalty killer and can chip in offensively when needed. Weitzel is a great teammate, who we expect to fit in seamlessly into our room.

Returning players:

McLaughlin– “We are going to have a younger defence core this season. McLauglin will be leading that group”

Tyler Pisiak never cheats on effort.

“Tyler plays a punishing game and forechecks exceptionally hard. He has an offensive flare to his game that we are expecting to see more of this season.”

Lane Goodwin –  “Goodwin is arguably the best two-way player in the league. He finished last season winning more than 65 per cent of his faceoffs. Lane is the type of player that you are comfortable having him on the ice in any situation.”

DiBella says the Leafs will be fast, hard working and a physical team.

“We are going to be tough to play against and have goal scorers sprinkled throughout our lineup,” says DiBella.