Earlier today I was able to catch up with the Leafs at their new practise facility, a day before training camps officially open. I had just arrived and pulled into a parking spot and just as I was about to step out of my car, a beast of a Cadillac Escalade pulled into the spot right beside me. I had noticed the New York plates as it drove in, and was quite pleased to see new Leaf Mike Komisarek step out. It was my first time meeting the former Hab in person and it didn’t take long to figure out why he was so popular and well liked amongst his peers and fans in Montreal. He was more than willing to sign any autograph demands from his new fans, and was quite easy going. Any questions regarding his relationship with Grabovski, and if there were any ill feelings between the two can be put to rest. During skating drills and the scrimmage that followed, Grabs and Komi were often laughing it up and joking around with each other with playful jabs and hooks. If there is any animosity between the two, it was far from evident. It was a pleasure watching Komi having a good time with his new team and cleary getting comfortable and fitting in with the group.
The majority of the rookies were absent today as they were out in Kitchener for the rookie camp, so the skate was mainly made up of a core veteran group. Among the skaters today were Deveaux, Hamilton, Tlusty, Grabs, Kulemin, Van Ryn, Finger, Schenn, Komi, Beauchemin, Mayers, Stajan, White, Toskala, Poni, Blake, Hagman, J.Mitchell, Primeau, Frogren and Orr among others. Kaberle was also at the rink, but did not skate with the team. Ron Wilson was present, but he watched from a distance as coaches are not permitted to participate in unofficial practises. It was the veterans who were running the practise session and light work out. The team skated and worked through some drills for half an hour before taking part in a scrimmage for the remainder of the hour. I expected to see Jason Allison there, but he was absent as far as I could tell.
As I mentioned earlier, camps officially open tomorrow, and its a day the players would probably rather avoid. Intense and grueling work outs usually accompany the first day of camp, and its a good guess to say that the teams physicals are something the players never look forward to. However, it is a part of the process as teams evaluate the health and fitness levels of the players. With less than a week until the Leafs play their first preseason game against the Bruins, Ron Wilson and staff won’t have much time to get the team the pratise time it needs. However, with 4 games in 4 nights starting next Wednesday, Wilson will have ample opportunity to try out a whole variety of lines and line ups. Players who come into camp in prime shape and with the tenacity that the team is looking for will have all the chance to prove they belong with so many games in so many days. The preseason schedule is very compact and has the Leafs playing 9 games in only 12 nights, so while the team and coaching staff have a plethora of games to work things out, they have very limited time to practise. It will take time and patience, but Ron Wilson now has all the tools to make this a better defensive team. The challenge will now be whether he can do it, and if the players are willing to work harder to buy into the system.
Finally though, the 2009-2010 season is upon us. I wont say it’s officially upon us yet, not until the real games begin, but the season has begun. Seeing many of the new faces today, like Beauch and Komi, really got my hockey juices going. The guys were all smiles and laughs today, but tomorrows physicals won’t be so easy.