The KIJHL will have an inauspicious start to its season after a Kimberley Dynamiter tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.
The player has been placed on a 14-day quarantine and the Dynamiters opening two exhibition games scheduled for Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 postponed.
Nevertheless, the games will go on, with the Castlegar Rebels and Nelson Leafs facing off against each other on Friday, the first of two exhibition games between the teams, before the regular season starts on Nov. 13.
The Leafs and Rebels are playing in a cohort of four with the Grand Forks Border Bruins and Osoyoos Coyotes until January, when the Creston Valley Thunder Cats will slot in after a 14-day quarantine in place of Osoyoos.
The Rebels have added two Trail products to the team in Nathan Dann, 16, and Mitch Daines, 17. The talented prospects are expected to be in the lineup for one or both games against the Leafs in Castlegar on Friday and Nelson on Saturday.
Nelson, meanwhile, picked up Beaver Valley Nitehawks forward Simon Nemethy in the dispersal draft, after the Nitehawks pulled out of the pandemic-shortened season.
Nemethy was one of the Hawks premier forwards the past two seasons. The Vanderhoof native tallied 39 points in 45 games in 2019-20 with Beaver Valley.
Despite just 14 wins last season, Rebels coach Carter Duffin has reason for optimism heading into a very different KIJHL season.
“We have a strong group of returning players this season,” Duffin told the Castlegar News. “This comes from the culture we have been building over the past two seasons.”
Returning players include 20-year-old veterans captain Josh Wiens, forwards Colby Winia and Jordan Adams, and defenceman Erik Nystrom.
Wiens led Castlegar in scoring last season with 10 goals and 39 points, while Winia counted 21 points, Adams 11 points, and Nystrom 11 points – as well as a healthy 108 penalty minutes.
As for the Leafs, after winning 30 games last year, Nelson was poised to go deep into the playoffs, leading the Nitehawks 2-0 in the best-of-seven Murdoch Division final, before the season was called off in March due to the coronavirus.
The Leafs will see a talented group return including forwards Joe Davidson, Tyler Pisiak, Lane Goodwin, Brandon Costa, Bryden Pow, and Mathew Byrne, in addition to defenceman Reid Vulcano, and Sean Allen, and goalie Tenzin Mint.
During the offseason the Leafs traded goalie Anderson Violette for a trio of Summerland Steam veterans, acquiring Liam McLaren, Matthew Byrne and Ethan McLaughlin.
The move surrendered an exceptional goalie, but brought three elite players that according to assistant coach Adam DiBella, “will bring unique elements to our lineup.”
DiBella also said that he is confident his players will be ready for the start of 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.”
The puck drop on Friday’s game in Castlegar goes at 7 p.m. and the match in Nelson Saturday at the same time.
The teams will play their first regular season game on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Castlegar Rec Centre.