The most important Nelson Leafs player at the rink Wednesday was the one who hasn’t played since February.
Just prior to the start of last season’s KIJHL playoffs, with the Leafs enjoying their best campaign in years, David Sanchez suffered a gruesome injury. He broke both his fibula and tibia as well as ruptured a ligament in his right leg during a home game Feb. 15 in which he had already scored what would end up being the game-winning goal.
He watched the Leafs’ abbreviated playoff run between a pair of crutches, and spent the summer recovering at home. Now the Leafs’ new captain wants to make up for lost time.
“I’m really just looking forward to staying healthy this year and having a long playoff run, really go deep this year, hopefully make it out of our conference,” said Sanchez, who hopes to be ready for the start of the regular season next week. “That’s my goal.”
Sanchez watched from the stands as Nelson lost 4-1 to the the Revelstoke Grizzlies in their second exhibition game after losing 4-2 in Revelstoke on Sunday.
Entering his third season, Sanchez has previously played the reliable role of an energy forward. Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said he chose the 20 year old as his captain because of his character and on-ice commitment.
“He’s unpredictable and he makes everyone that much more honest on the ice,” said DiBella. “He has an offensive flair, he can put the puck in the net. He’s an all-around good player.”
Sanchez grew up in Falher, Alta., a town of approximately 1,000 people over four hours north of Edmonton, after his parents immigrated from Peru. The family are honey farmers — Sanchez describes his home as “honey, honeybees, wax all over the place, all over the farm” — and all four Sanchez children grew up playing hockey.
As he enters his final year of junior hockey, Sanchez said he hopes to emulate last season’s captain Jack Karran and set a good example for the team’s younger players. “I need to play as more of a giant like Jack would, be all over and be everywhere.”
That attitude is exactly what DiBella wants as the team evaluates its roster options prior to the regular season opener Sept. 13 when the Leafs host the Fernie Ghostriders.
“I think there’s two things to winning. One is players can’t be afraid to win. The other is winning is a habit, as is losing,” said DiBella.
“The Leaf culture the last few years has been a winning culture. I think our veterans, particularly the 20 year olds, are going the make sure the rest of the kids in that room understand what the expectations are from each and every one of them.”
Joe Davidson had the lone goal for the Leafs on Wednesday, with goaltenders Carlos Siso and Sawyer Schmidt combining to stop 36 shots.
Kyle Bailey, Kole Christensson, Cody Quinton and Ryan Webb each scored for the KIJHL’s defending champion Grizzlies, while Drew Palm made 19 saves.
After a slow, error-prone first period that looked every bit like pre-season hockey, Bailey opened the scoring for Revelstoke in the second period when he took advantage of a breakaway and beat Siso glove-side.
Davidson, a Nelson native, tied the game midway through the second. He took possession at centre ice, skated into the Grizzlies’ zone uncontested and wired a shot past Palm.
The game became tiresome in the third period as players with something to prove started finding themselves in the penalty box. Christensson gave the Grizzlies the lead with a tight shot on Schmidt, and goals from Quinton and Webb put the game away.
Leaflets: The Leafs have traded F Mitchell Lavoie to the Delta Ice Hawks of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League for a player development fee. Lavoie scored 12 goals and had 15 assists in 118 KIJHL games with Nelson and Revelstoke. … The game featured brother vs. brother. Nelson native Reid Vulcano suited up for the Leafs while his brother Brendan was on the ice for the Grizzlies. … The Leafs next host the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Friday before playing their final pre-season game Saturday against the Nitehawks in Fruitvale.