Thanks to Tony Ambrogio aka tips for telling me today’s 10 a.m. practice was at 9 a.m. All good, he was there at the same time and we were both confused.

The first and only person in the arena when I entered was The Sheriff. Colton Orr was working on his shot on the “Rapid Fire” pad at the far end of the MCC. I walked over to observe, but received a death glare from him and decided to retreat. Smart move, in my opinion. And you guys call me dumb.

The Leafs invited Season Ticket Holders (a choice few) down to watch the festivities today, so roughly 100 people were on hand. The security lady gave me the heads up, suggesting “you media guys should stay at the far end…don’t want to be distracted by the kids.” Sweet call, Ma’am.

Onto the Game

The Leafs took the ice at 10 a.m. with the two teams decked out in Blue and White. Not very original, but I see where they are going with this motif. Captain Dion was on the Blue Team and Kid Kadri was representing White. The Hosts of the Hemp Hacienda were Reimer at one end and Bernier at the other. Sorry for that Joe Bowen-like intro, but he was standing beside me all morning.

It was one of those days at the rink where you can just feel the energy. The pace was excellent throughout all three periods of play. Bodies were hitting the ice and solid decision making was generally on display when distributing the puck.

As I mentioned a few times, I have been very pleased with the physical play of Carter Ashton. This kid is fighting for a spot and he made it clear to everybody (as well as management) that he came to Camp on a mission. He took a few runs at players today, with Liles and Blacker being on receiving ends of hits. Frazer McLaren took exception to the hit on Liles, skating over to Ashton to discuss it with a face wash before Ashton promptly slashed him on the hand. McLaren then ripped Ashtons helmet off and fired him to the ice. Reports from the dressing room suggest McLaren has a broken pinky. I thought Carter did a lot of things right this week and cannot wait to see him in the pre-season games coming up.

By now, Leafs fans know the entire 2013 version of the club inside and out, advanced stats included. However, most of us have not yet seen the new faces so I will comment on their play today.

I will begin with Jonathan Bernier. Simply put, he looks like the real deal. His composed and quick movement seems effortless between the pipes. He made a huge pad save in the second period (on the Marlies ice, they switched rinks for each period) that directly led to an odd man rush up the ice on which the White Team scored on Reimer. These are the types of saves a good team needs and they can change momentum in a rapid and timely fashion. Bernier handles the puck effectively and has a good sense of where bad bounces will end up. That to me is a huge benefit as opposed to just swimming/flopping around praying it hits him.

Next up is the PTO-signed Mason Raymond. This kid is an absolute jackrabbit. He can skate the puck out of trouble and get open just as easily. That’s a good combination, and while he seems to have decent hands and on-ice awareness I was concerned about how he would deal with physical play. Would he disappear (remember – he has had major back issues) when he got rocked? The short answer to that question is “no.” He took a bunch of hits today to make plays or chip pucks deep and that is a good sign for his chances of playing on the Leafs this season. He isn’t my favourite player, but teams need speed and we lost quite a bit with Frattin, Grabbo, MacArthur leaving for greener pastures. Maybe there is a spot for him on line #3.

Morgan Rielly. What more can I say about this kid? I loved him last Camp and I love him still. Simply put, he can skate, pass, make smart decisions, and he is not a shrinking violet when it comes to physical play or positioning. He is going to make it beyond difficult to cut him from this team and therefore send him back to Junior. I know all of our concerns about rushing a young hockey player into the NHL, but there may be little choice with Morgan. Rielly was paired with Dion again today (same as last camp), and they seem to gel very well together. I thought Morgan was more effective this time around because he didn’t always default to the Captain to make plays. Rielly scored on a nice wrist shot from the high slot in today’s game. Credit to Tyler Biggs, who was screening the goalie at the time. Little things like that go without fanfare but I like it to be noticed.

Finally, Paul Ranger. I actually don’t know what to say about his play, other than it’s so solid I feel like I am being misled. How can a guy like this be out of the NHL for so long? His passes always hit their intended target, and his first pass out of his zone led to two breakaways today. He is so sound in his positional play in his own end and always gets his body between the forward and his goalie. He skates well and is strong on the puck when he decides to pinch. I don’t want to blow too much hot air up his Bauer pants, but, man, this guy could be a huge steal. Cody Franson, are you watching this?

The final score was 6-3, but it really didn’t matter much. It was another opportunity for the Coaching Staff and Management to see what they have in this ever-deepening organization. There will some tough cuts to make, but I believe some are pretty obvious. It was told to me that the Leafs will continue to carry a few extra bodies into the pre-season, so their regulars don’t have to deal with punks from other teams running around at them trying to make names for themselves. Smart move and with the injuries to Lupul, Orr and now McLaren; those extra players will come in handy.

Standouts from the week: Reilly, Ashton, Ranger, Raymond, Kessel (on Day 1) and Big Joe Colborne. Oh, and Gardiner and Bernier… the list goes on.

I won’t trash talk anybody in particular, but the individuals who had weak days at the MCC have an opportunity to show differently in the pre-season games or they may as well have packed their bags.

Thanks for following along with my incessant ramblings on here and via Twitter. It was a fun three days being down at the MCC and fielding questions from all of you. There will be plenty of video links here at MLHS from our friends at TSN, Sportsnet and of course Leafs TV.

If you have any questions, please fire them off to me as I am sure I missed a huge amount but will gladly fill in any blanks.

See you all soon. The pre-season starts tomorrow!

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