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Valley Maple Leafs looking to finish NSJHL season strong

WINDSOR, N.S. — Although the Valley Maple Leafs had their first two games of 2017 postponed due to the weather, they're ready to rack up some points in their quest to secure a good playoff spot.

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The Leafs, who finished the 2016 half of their season in first place, have seven games scheduled for January, four of which are at home.

On Jan. 13, the Cole Harbour Colts come to town, then on Jan. 20, it's the Brookfield Elks. Both games are at 7:30 p.m. The county rivals, the East Hants Penguins, will make their way down to the Hants Exhibition Arena for a 3:45 p.m. game on Jan. 22. The always tough Sackville Blazers will be in town Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. The Leafs' away games are Jan. 16 versus Sackville, Jan. 19, versus Brookfield, and Jan. 28 versus Liverpool.

“I'm very pleased with what we've done to this point,” said David Hunter, the Leafs' general manager.

“The season starts now. It's a tight division.”

In the Fred Fox Division of the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League, the Leafs are currently in second place. They've played 21 games, registering 12 wins, two shootout wins, six losses, and one overtime loss. They trail the Sackville Blazers, who have played 24 games to date, by four points. The Colts are currently in third place, one point behind the Leafs. The Penguins, Privateers and Elks are not far behind, registering 37, 36, and 30 points on the season.

The Valley Maple Leafs captain Tyler Young and the Glace Bay Junior Miners captain Shawn Neville took part in a ceremonial puck drop with mayor elect Anna Allen and her grandson Lucas to kick off the Leafs' home opener Oct. 21, 2016.

The Leafs won the Don Johnson Cup at the end of their 2015/16 season. The cup represents the best of the best in Atlantic Canada. Hunter said they want to defend their title this year and will be pulling out all the stops to try to make it back to the prestigious tournament.

“Our division is the toughest in probably all the junior leagues in the Maritimes or Atlantic Canada. We have the top five teams — any one of them could go on a hot streak and move up that ladder,” said Hunter.

“We can't let games get away from us. That's the key.”


Players to watch

Hunter said they have a strong group of returning players this year, and some rookies that are really coming into their own.

“Some of the kids that we brought into the line up have really impressed us, me especially,” said Hunter.

Stuart Kennie, Jonah Vidito, Brody McCarron, and Joe Brown were among the rookies that Hunter pointed out.

“All of our veterans have stepped up to the plate,” Hunter added.

Team captain Tyler Young leads by example, Hunter said. The Ontario native has played 20 games to date, recording 17 goals and 16 assists for a total of 33 points.

When it comes to scoring, three players are currently in a three-way tie for second place in the Leafs' standings. All are returning players, all have played 21 games and recorded 22 points. Local player Isaac Bridge has scored 13 times and recorded nine assists, Wesley Demone has scored 11 times and assisted on 11 other goals, and Sean Anderson has scored eight times and provided 14 helpers.

Hunter said having Chris Clokie back between the pipes for the Leafs has given them solid goaltending.

“Clokie arises to the occasion. If he gets frustrated, tomorrow night he goes back in the net and doesn't seem to worry about it,” said Hunter. “He comes up big for us.”

Clokie was the Leafs' goaltender when they won the Atlantic title last season.

As for the coaching staff — Josh Dill, Brett Fletcher and Rob Lindsay — Hunter said they know how to bring out the hockey players' strengths.

“If we were going to have Coach of the Year, we would have three of them on our bench. That's my view,” said Hunter.

“Coaches all bring different things to the table. All three coaches have a different approach to the players and they all work good together.”

Hunter said people looking to watch high calibre hockey need only head to the rink on a Friday night when the Leafs play.


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