First day of Leafs camp was great

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:52 PM ET

TORONTO - The opening day at Leafs training camp is, for the media at least, like being a fireman for a day ... minus, of course, any possible heroics.

Generally, the media dregs stand around, looking dazed and confused, then scramble into action when a player is paraded out of the dressing room.

The only thing missing is an alarm and an announcement over the P.A. system, like on a battleship.

"Now hear this! Korbinian Holzer will be made available to the media at 1300 hours. That is all."

Yep, it's the Leafs training camp, so pretty well anyone wearing a blue shirt is scrummed -- from the team's superstar ... uh, from the team's star ... uh, from the team's best player, Phil Kessel, to the guys nobody has ever heard of, like Jerome Flaake and Jeff Finger.

An example of the media's obsession with anything Maple Leaf occurs when journeyman forward Mike Brown -- not to be mistaken for Mike Brown the cricketer or Mike Brown the Aussie rules football player or Mike Brown the mixed martial artist -- wanders out of the testing room and is intercepted by a Leafs media guy and angled towards the waiting media.

"Who wants to talk to me?" says a puzzled Brown. "You sure you want to talk to me?"

Brown forgets that he's no longer in Anaheim. In fact, there's a sad-looking kid outside wearing a Leafs jersey from Sears who's next in line for a media scrum if head coach Ron Wilson doesn't show up soon.

Near the end of his dissertation, Brown informs the media that his new teammates are "a great group of guys."

About the same time, Leafs senior advisor Cliff Fletcher makes an appearance and expresses a few thoughts on the just departed Pat Burns.

Fletcher is sincere and visibly upset and can't say enough good things about his former coach. The problem is, Fletcher has been misinformed. Burns isn't actually dead, though nobody at the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence knows that yet.

As soon as Fletcher retreats back into the dressing room, the army of journalists spread out like frightened squirrels so they can Twitter the news. Minutes later, word filters out that Burns is still alive, and the media guys scamper to Twitter that.

Yes, it's a marvellous day for sports journalism.

Still, the opening day of training camp is generally a feel-good type of deal, with optimism for the upcoming season running high and Wilson not yet agitated by the Toronto media.

When Wilson finally does make an appearance, he's immediately surrounded, and a blond bombshell opens the questioning with: "Another season begins. Are you excited about today, medical day?"

Nobody's sure how Wilson, a noted wisenheimer, is going to respond, but it's clear that the coach is in a relaxed frame of mind when he refrains from answering with something like: "Yeah, there's nothing more exciting than watching a guy ride an exercise bike in his pyjamas."

Further proof of the coach's tranquil emotional state is revealed when radio guy Howard Berger asks a question and Wilson's head does not explode.

The only onion in the ointment is the actual VO2 testing, which is brutal. At one point, defenceman Luke Schenn finishes and can barely climb off his bike.

He's white and sweaty and disorientated, sort of like Tomas Kaberle when his dad begins to talk. Some players can barely walk from the testing room to the dressing room after being VO2 tested.

Team captain Dion Phaneuf, who spoke to the media during informal workouts in Toronto during the week, pops out and asks if anyone needs him (clearly with the hope that nobody does).

One reporter, and one reporter only, says, yes, he needs to ask him one question. Phaneuf steps over to the question area and, suddenly, is surrounded by 16 or so media types, and quickly the one question turns into many questions.

At one point , Phaneuf reveals that Phil Kessel is "a good guy."

And then, when there's a lull in the questioning, Phaneuf thanks everybody and breaks free, prompting one veteran media wag (whose initials are R.L.) to suggest that it's the captain's new way of dealing with the media -- when there's a break in the questions, he'll thank everyone and take off.

Not a bad plan actually. As the media hordes wander off in search of food, and possibly to work, forward Kris Versteeg shows up to share his thoughts on becoming a Maple Leaf. Near the end of his interview, Versteeg drops a bombshell. It appears that his new teammates are "all great guys."

And the Twittering begins anew.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


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