Cuma back to 'make lot of noise'

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

A knee injury to Tyler Cuma was supposed to hurt the 67's.

Instead, they won 14-of-19 games without their best defenceman.

"I am a bit surprised," Cuma, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild, said yesterday. "When I was playing, we were pretty inconsistent and as soon as I get hurt, it's like we flipped a switch. We became a really, really strong team.

"When the young kids got an opportunity to play and showcase themselves, they made the most of it. Right now, they're almost playing like veterans."

Cuma, who missed eight weeks with torn ligaments suffered at Canada's world junior team training camp, returns to the lineup tonight when the 67's take on the Central Division-leading Brampton Battalion at the Civic Centre.

Cuma is as pumped to get back out there as one would guess.

"I can't wait," he said. "It's been way too long for my liking.

"There's still a slight pull and a little discomfort, but that's to be expected. I'll have a brace to wear, but I'll be so jacked up on adrenalin I won't even know I had an injury."

Numbers wise, Cuma has not exactly lit up the scoreboard. In his 20 games, the smooth-skating 19-year-old had one goal, eight assists and a minus-7 rating.

But his stabilizing influence and leadership will no doubt be welcomed on a blue line that has been under the care of Julien Demers, Travis Gibbons, Paryzek and rookies Brian Birkhoff, Marc Zanetti and Derek Hartwick.

Against Brampton, the defenders will have to be on their toes.

The Battalion have won their its last 10 games, outscoring opponents by a 45-13 margin in the process. As of yesterday, Brampton was led offensively by three of the league's top 16 scorers: World junior hero Cody Hodgson was fifth, with 31 goals and 32 assists in just 35 games; Matt Duchene, who was behind only John Tavares in Central Scouting's mid-season rankings of North American skaters, has 25 goals and 37 assists, and New York Rangers third-rounder Evgeny Grachev has 28 goals and 27 assists.

In goal, the Battalion added Team USA keeper Thomas McCollum, a Detroit Red Wings first-rounder, at the trade deadline.

Brampton is challenging Belleville for top spot in the Eastern Conference, with the 67's third and trying to get back in the mix.

"Ever since I came into this league Brampton has had a really hard-working team," said Cuma. "They may not have always had the best players, but they always worked hard and were usually near the top of the standings. I can only imagine playing for Stan Butler this year, it's still the same."

The 67's are 1-2 vs. the Battalion this season. In the last meeting, Brampton came to the Civic Centre riding a 14-game winning streak. The 67's led 4-1 early in the third, but suffered a late-game collapse and a 5-4 defeat.

The 67's are a different team since then.

"Playing against all the top teams, we've stuck right with them," said Cuma, whose 67's are coming off a 4-3 victory over Tavares and the London Knights. "I think we can make a lot of noise come playoff time."


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