September 20, 2006
This camp is no holiday
By AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
Paul Maurice has been in such a good mood throughout training camp that some of the ink-stained wretches were considering having a bit of fun at the post-game press conference on Monday.
Someone suggested it might be a good idea to open with, "Do you think your job is still safe?"
Or, in a parody of an infamous Swiss sportswriter who has a reputation for antagonizing coaches at international events, "Coach Maurice, will you now resign in shame?"
After all, in previous exhibition seasons, the coach would shrug off pre-season losses with the somewhat obvious assertion that these were only training-camp games.
But it was clear right off the bat on Monday night that Maurice was not in the mood for any joviality after his Leafs got whacked 4-0 by the Buffalo Sabres.
He was shocked, he said, by the lack of intensity exhibited by some of his players. As for the it's-only-pre-season excuse, Maurice suggested that no matter what time of the year it is, it's still competition. You should always compete, he said, no matter how much is on the line.
He conceded that a couple of players had looked good. When asked if any others had brought themselves to his notice, he asked, "Which way?"
Maybe Maurice will indeed be the saviour behind the bench the Leafs have coveted.
Maybe he won't.
But this much is clear -- the doors of the country club have been closed and barred, never to re-open while Maurice is in charge.
In recent years, there have been more notorious National Hockey League country clubs. The Pittsburgh Penguins, for instance. But Toronto always was well up the list, enjoying a well-earned reputation as a place where you could go and get your regular shifts and earn your money without an awful lot of inconvenience to your lifestyle.
That era has ended. Former Leaf Gary Roberts, who now plays for the Florida Panthers, was recently quoted as saying that under Pat Quinn, the Leafs were never held accountable.
They were an undisciplined group, Roberts said, that won only when they got great goaltending. As a result, said Roberts, when the Leafs got into playoff series against disciplined teams like the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, they came out second-best.
Toronto's only real post-season success, said Roberts, came against the Ottawa Senators and that was only because the Leafs got better goaltending. As far as quality of play and production of scoring chances were concerned, the Senators were better.
Even so, the same players went back on to the ice when their next shift rolled around.
Roberts, who played for Maurice with the Carolina Hurricanes, promised the Leafs will be better conditioned this year than they have been in the past seven.
It may take a while. Let's face it, these guys are in infinitely better shape than the people who write about them. But they're not in such great shape when compared to the rest of the NHL.
Quinn's practices were easy going, bordering on lackadaisical. Maurice's practices are up-tempo, focused and demanding.
The players may not have realized it yet, but there's a reason for that. Maurice expects them to play as they practice.
He doesn't believe that the competitive edge is a commodity that can be turned on and off.
It's an attitude. You practice hard, you play hard. You expect to do well on every drill in practice. You expect to do well on every shift in the games.
And you expect to win every time out.
When that didn't happen on Monday, Maurice was not a happy man. He expects improvement.
If the players aren't aware of that yet, they soon will be.