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Leafs trying to keep it real during scrimmage tourney

Frederik Gauthier  celebrates his goal during a team scrimmage on Wednesday,during the Maple Leafs third day of  training camp.
Frederik Gauthier celebrates his goal during a team scrimmage on Wednesday,during the Maple Leafs third day of training camp.

To the trained ear, it was the sounds of a real Maple Leafs match.

Warm-up music prior to face-off, snippets of rock, pop, country and hip-hop between whistles, a loud horn after every goal and a light ditty to play the 34 players off to the dressing room.

But toiling in their near-empty Covid-cleared practice rink isn’t the same as playing in front of 19,000 live bodies at Scotiabank Arena. And the Leafs’ plan to replicate game situations during their scrimmage tournament took a hit before Game 1 on Wednesday when the league nixed their plan to use minor pro referees and linesmen.

“You know what? Apparently people around the NHL are paying attention to our media reports here in Toronto,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “I think there are some people that perhaps liked the idea, but (not) that maybe they didn’t have the same (officials) available to them.”

Indeed, the GTA is home to many idled referees and linesmen, not so other parts of the map. Marlies head coach Greg Moore did both jobs on Wednesday.


To get a further feel for their best-of-five qualifier against the Columbus Blue Jackets in two weeks, the Leafs launched their in-house five-game series titled ‘A House Divided’, two teams captained by spring/summer roommates Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen. There was even a pre-game pump-up video that played off that relationship to get the teams in the mood.

The opener was a 6-5 win for the goalie’s gang, Jason Spezza tipping in a Jake Muzzin shot with 17.3 ticks to go in the second running-time period.

Matthews not only has Zach Hyman and William Nylander on his wings, but Keefe further bolstered their firepower with John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Ilya Mikheyev, which gave Andersen’s team some motivation to play defence.

“Obviously, it’s a little unconventional,” Keefe said of not providing more balance. “But this is not a conventional camp or a conventional time. We’re trying to get a lot out of these games. The other part of it, we’ve got the Alex Kerfoot line (with Pierre Engvall and Kasperi Kapanen) and the Frederik Gauthier line (with Jason Spezza and Kyle Clifford) that really have to work to make life hard on the opposition with their habits and their details. Our top guys have to get used to playing guys that make it hard on them.”

With a team day off Thursday, the series will continue next week with an eye to the July 28 exhibition game against Montreal at SBA.

Nic Petan, on a line with rookie Nick Robertson and Egor Korshkov, had two goals for Andersen’s team, along with Kerfoot, defenceman Teemu Kivihalme and defenceman Calle Rosen on a penalty shot. Hyman had two, Marner, Gauthier and Adam Brooks the others for Matthews’ men.


With the rest of the world wearing masks, social distancing and taking a general hands-off approach to daily living, Clifford is still allowed to get down and dirty.

The checking winger would find it hard to do otherwise after a decade of driving into crowded corners and the slot, breathing down the neck of opponents and maybe getting in someone’s face after a whistle. Clifford broke into a big smile on the Leafs Zoom chat when talking about the exemption he and like-minded NHLers are granted to be up close and personal as training camps opened this week.

“It’s nice not being six feet apart,” Clifford said. “The (coaching) staff has done a good job, we can do a lot of 1-on-1 battles.

“It’s just nice to be out with the guys again, working towards a goal.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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