As we filed into the arena today, it was mentioned that Lupul would be out again (back spasms) and that Phil Kessel would be returning home for a funeral for the passing of his Grandfather. Other absentees were Matt Finn and Colton Orr (leg bruise, one week).
I was standing solo and Paul Hendrick came over to me saying, “I hear that you wrote nice things about me yesterday in your article… thanks Corey.” We shared some laughs, mostly at my expense, and he carried on. Right after he left, Jonas Siegel stopped for a chat and mentioned, “I heard you were in London for the Rookie games but I didn’t get to see you…” I assume that he meant members of MLHS staff were there reporting. The positive to this is that members of the mainstream media are recognizing Alec’s and Declan’s hard work with the Maple Leafs Hot Stove website. Times are changing with how sports are being covered and I believe MLHS can provide the fans with something that the MSM cannot.
Onto the practice
Today, Team B took to the ice first. There were lots of drills and lap skating that took place on the main sheet of ice. One of the drills was a one on one drill in speed skating. Both players would skate through three pylons and then race to centre ice for a puck and continue in on the goalie. Mason Raymond, as you can imagine, did just fine in this department, but there one was glaring surprise. This shocker was also noticed by Jeff O’Neill, who mentioned it on the radio during their show on TSN Radio. Joe Colborne cleanly beat Jake Gardiner when they went head to head! Yeah, the 6’5″ deer on ice has gained at least a step on the ice this season. Is this going to be a regular occurrence that he beats guys in a foot race? Probably not, but it is indicative of how much time he has spent working on his foot speed.
While the ice was being flooded for scrimmage, I went over to the Marlies rink to watch Team A getting put through their paces. Not much of interest on that ice surface, but it is great to see the regulars and how much pace they have. It’s just a stride or two quicker than the younger AHL/Junior players, but it is impressive. It seems we are well taken care of with the team speed, on our blueline especially. We have plenty of very agile, quick players. Even the stay-at-home D are faster that previous generations of Leafs, and for that I am thankful.
Things started off slow. Randy Carlyle was up in the “crowd” watching from his usual viewing point. Two shifts into it, his assistant (couldn’t see who) stopped the practice and proceeded to read the riot act to the players on Team B. He was PISSED at the intensity and berated them for a solid 30 seconds (trust me, that is eternity if you are being yelled at). The pace picked up after play resumed and certain players stood out. Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Petter Granberg all had a solid session. Rielly and Gardiner are so smooth on the ice it is hard to describe, but their puck handling and passing are just as impressive to watch. Granberg played 2-on-1 and 1-on-1 situations absolutely perfectly and seems to be gaining confidence by the shift. Raymond was also part of this group and showed that his speed is NHL calibre, but I am not so sure about his desire to get involved in the physical battles. It was at this part of the day that Carlyle said to me, “you better cover your ears or move because I am going to blow this whistle a lot.” He was the time clock version of the horn from yesterday. I believe everybody realized that was irritating, and I chose to move.
Team A took to the ice after a fresh flood and I had a feeling the intensity was going to be ramped up. I was right, because scrimmage 2 bore witness to more hitting and the passing/skating was a level higher. I understand why some players might, but it’s nice to see nobody really coasting (Tim Connolly, yes I still remember you). During this session, there were continued battles between Ashton and Dion. Ashton was actually all over the ice and hits pretty much whomever he thinks he should. He looks faster and controls the puck well. He’s a surprise so far for me in camp. Gauthier made a very nice play on Nazem Kadri; when Kadri felt like he could dangle just inside the blueline, Frederik calmly stayed in position and then separated Naz from the puck. Textbook defensive coverage.
Paul Ranger continued his strong play from a positional point of view. He doesn’t do anything too flashy, but did play a 2 on 1 very well after Trevor Murphy made a poor pinch at the blue line to try and keep a puck in. Ranger will grow on fans if given a chance. Immediately after some more physical play, Dion Phaneuf really caught Carter Ashton at centre ice. Knocked him ass over tea kettle and reminded the youngster to be careful who you mess with. The Captain has a long memory. (Side note: After the scrimmage and stretching, Dion went right over to Ashton, asked him if he was okay, and tapped him on the shin pads before skating off… Class act).
Times like this make me smile as a fan. Darryl Sittler was talking to Carlyle right beside me. Two of my favourite Leafers from the past right there smiling and laughing. Does it get better? Yes, only because they talked for so long that Carlyle forgot to blow to the whistle to signal the end of the shift. The guys on the ice were dying. Finally, Clarkson just dumped the puck in and everybody stopped skating. Carlyle realized his mistake and kind of laughed at the players. Nobody was pissed, but it was one of those human moments we don’t get to see often at Camp.
The scrimmage ended and players filtered off the rink for another 1.5 hrs of “off-ice workouts” before calling it quits today. I am sure there will be a ton of interviews posted by TSN, Leafs TV and Sportsnet. There are so many awesome potential story lines from this Camp. I see this team as a fast, rugged, tough group with the ability to score in bunches. The young standouts looking for a spot on the big club blueline are Rielly, Gardiner, Blacker and Granberg. I believe any of them can make an NHL Team (if not ours) in the very near future; of course, that is if you haven’t already pencilled Jake Gardiner into the line-up based on his play from last years series with the Bruins.
That is it from the MCC for Day #2 (Day #3 if you included medicals, which I don’t). Hope you enjoyed following along with my tweets today and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.