Going from player to coach was a big step for Nelson Leafs bench boss Mario DiBella.
After playing senior men’s hockey in Nelson, DiBella swapped his spot in the crease for one on the bench in his mid 20s. He learned how to become a quality coach by traveling to seminars listening to other coaches.
“As I got more and more involved with hockey, I got associated with the BC Best Ever program – that opened another door of knowledge for me by rubbing shoulders with people from BC Hockey and a mentorship program that they had,” says DiBella, who also got involved with the high performance side instructing with Team BC and Team Pacific. “The common theme is the people at these levels are great resources and good coaches are certainly prepared to share their resources. I guess the best form of flattery is copyright.”
Featured in The Nelson Daily when he was rehired in 2015, DiBella’s hockey resume includes coaching the Leafs from 2000-02, the major midget Kootenay Ice and the local BC Hockey Female AAA team, Kootenay Wildcats — now the Kootenay Wild. He has also scouted in the BCHL with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Westside Warriors and the Melville Millionaires in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
DiBella enjoys the challenge of recruiting players to create a team the Leafs coaching staff believe would be successful playing in the KIJHL.
“I love watching the players grow. I enjoy the practices and the teaching aspects of the practice,” says DiBella. “Watching the individual and team success that we’ve seen in games.”
DiBella says he’s had success with the Leafs because it’s a tremendous organization. And having his son Adam coach with him has been a real blessing.
“Adam is a passionate and an intense individual. He’s articulate and well prepared. He analyzes things extremely well and he is able to look at the opposition and dissect what it is they are doing quickly,” says DiBella, adding they work well together even though the father-son relationship can be tested. “He understands his role and doesn’t overstep his boundaries. I respect his opinion.”
DiBella also has a strong relationship with general manager Lance Morey. The two think alike and view hockey the same way.
DiBella is inspired by Nelson native and former NHLer Mike Laughton to be a better coach. DiBella saw firsthand how Laughton was with players during a hockey school he operated in Nelson and provided the Leafs coach a free session. Seeing Laughton’s positive nature, regardless of who he was dealing with, impacted DiBella.
“He made everybody feel like they were 10-foot tall and the best at what they were doing,” says DiBella. “That positive nature is just infectious.”
The Leafs have had success developing players for the next level because when they enter the program they know how to help.
“They have a lot of potential, but they are missing a few tools and we are able to identify that,” says DiBella. “We are able to break things down pretty well. One of the things that we do well is that we don’t accept just going through the process as we have goals put in place. In practice, we don’t move onto the next drill until the current progression is done right.”
Here is a list of some of the players the Leafs have moved on:
Geoffrey Kinrade (2000-03) BCHL, Michigan Tech, AHL, NHL- Tampa Bay, KHL
Michael-Lee Teslak (2000-02) BCHL, Michigan Tech, Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL), ECHL
Reid Wilson (2017-19 Castlegar/Nelson 2018-20) University of Jamestown (ACHA)
Shawn Campbell (2016018/ 18-20 Nelson) Stuttgart Rebels (Germany Professional League)
Eamonn Miller (2015-17) OCN/Dauphin (MJHL) Salem State College NCAA III
Anderson Violette (2019-20) Powell River (BCHL)
Kyle Chernenkoff (2015-16) Trail (BCHL)
Alek Erichuk (2018-20) Merritt (BCHL)
Michael Bladon (2017-18) Humboldt (SJHL) Calgary/Spruce Grove (AJHL)
Cole Wyatt (2018-20) Bonnyville (AJHL) West Kelowna (BCHL – 2018-19)
Mason Mullaney (2016-17) Yorkton (SJHL)
Aigne McGeady-Bruce (2014-17) Estevan Bruins (SJHL)
Kalem Hanlon (2018-19) La Ronge (SJHL)
What makes the Leafs program attractive is how they treat people and how the community embraces them.
“The facilities are second to none with our Nelson and District Community Centre,” says DiBella, adding that their first agenda is to treat people honestly and with respect. “A great ice surface. A great room, pool and workout facility next to the arena. It’s just a successful atmosphere.”