Sports

Leafs new coach believes defence comes first

With less than a month to go before exhibition play begins, the Nelson Leafs’ new coach is busy trying to create a team that he says will play a defensive, high energy game. - Kevin Mills, File Photo
With less than a month to go before exhibition play begins, the Nelson Leafs’ new coach is busy trying to create a team that he says will play a defensive, high energy game.
— image credit: Kevin Mills, File Photo

With the exhibition hockey season just a few weeks away, the new head coach and general manager of the Nelson Leafs is trying to prepare for the season.

The only problem is he has yet to arrive in Nelson.

David McLellan was hired at the beginning of August after coach Matt Hughes —  who was hired by the Leafs in May — resigned without coaching a single game.

That put the team, and McLellan into rush mode.

“For the most part, my experience is your team would be pretty much full before you go to main camp, but it will make it interesting,” McLellan told 103.5 The Juice FM.

“I think we have enough players coming to main camp to make it very competitive anyway. Nelson has a history of attracting good players too.”

The new coach would have preferred to have had April until now to recruit players and been able to go to main camp with one or two spots to fill. But the lateness of his hiring made that impossible.

“It’s different but we’ll work through it.”

His year of coaching experience has helped McLellan build a strong recruiting network and he said he has already been in contact with many of his sources.

He’s already invited eight players to come out.

“They’ve committed to other things but they know me personally so I’m hoping that, of the eight I have invited, maybe three or four will be able to change their minds and come up to Nelson.”

He should know by end of next week if any of his new recruits will make the trip to camp.

Getting to Nelson has been a challenge for the coach who is currently working remotely as he attempts to move into his new digs by September 1.

But why would a successful coach come to a team so late in the off-season?

“It’s really the history of the Nelson Leafs and the organization. There’s not many better organizations at the KIJHL level and that was really my focus when I applied for the role just because of the history of the organization.

“It’s a great town. As a coach in the BCHL I have been there a few times recruiting and saw the atmosphere at games and thought it was a good fit for me.”

McLellan said the fact that the former  Leafs’ coach  found a different opportunity isn’t unusual, explaining “that happens in hockey. It’s resource driven.” He said Hughes  probably looked for something that made a better fit for him.

“Hopefully I was the next best candidate. It’s part of junior hockey, I don’t take it personally,” said McLellan.

After coaching the Nippon Cranes for 10 years in Japan, McLellan was asked to join the staff of the Burnaby Express junior hockey squad.

He spent last three years coaching the Delta Ice Hawks of the PIJHL, winning the championship in 2012.

He hopes to bring that success to Nelson.

“My teams are known for being aggressive, hard-working teams and skill orientated.

“I build from defence out. I think offence comes from good defence so we will be focusing hard on how to play in our own zone and transition out of our zone through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. High paced play and work ethic is a big thing with me.”

McLellan said fans can expect a high energy team that’s going to finish checks and that’s going to go to the net hard.

He wants to be a team that’s tough to play against especially at home.

— with files from Greg Nesteroff

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