Kids thrown into the fire

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

There was a Kids Night promotion at the Air Canada Centre last evening, featuring three rookie defenceman given prime-time exposure to the pressure of a Leafs-Canadiens game.

Staffan Kronwall, now a grizzled veteran with 27 games experience, Andy Wozniewski, in his third NHL start, and the debuting Jay Harrison did not look too out of place, with only Wozniewski and partner Ken Klee on the ice for any of Montreal's goals.

Harrison and Kronwall played more than 10 minutes. Coach Pat Quinn was complimentary of them, except for noting that communication problems with goaltender Mikael Tellqvist have to be ironed out with the whole defence before the club begins a three-game road swing tomorrow in Florida.

CLASS OF 2001 SHINES

Though the Leafs have a spotty draft record, the first appearance by Harrison means that five of the first seven prospects chosen in 2001 have played at least one game.

They include defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo (17th overall), Karel Pilar (39), Harrison (82), Maxim Kondratiev (168) and forward Kyle Wellwood (134).

Still expected to get a chance with the Leafs some day is defenceman Brendan Bell (65), now with the Marlies.

Players such as Harrison, Bell and Ian White were buried further in the minors as the Leafs imported talent such as Klee and Alex Khavanov. Harrison was trying to remain calm before his first big-league game after a four-year American Hockey League apprenticeship. He was a plus-12 for the farm team, with 24 points.

All three call-ups last night were more than six feet tall.

"Size has got to be able to play," Quinn cautioned. "Suddenly, they're at a new level here. It's not easy to play defence in this league and defence is a big part of how your forwards make contributions. We need more contributions and our young guys will keep learning responsibility."

LOOSE LEAFS

Despite his loudest public grumbling to date about being benched, Mariusz Czerkawski remained in the stands last night to accommodate Darcy Tucker's return to action ... Captain Mats Sundin played in his 800th game as a Leaf last night, only the ninth man in club history to do so.


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