He's back

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

On that fateful summer afternoon of July 2, 2002, Plan B stood for Belfour.

Just hours after fan favourite Curtis Joseph staggered members of the Maple Leafs nation with the news he was bolting for the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, the Toronto brass wasted little time in announcing the signing of his replacement.

It may have been the end of the Cujo era in Toronto. But it also was the beginning of Ed Belfour's reign.

"Things usually heat up pretty quick in free agency," Belfour recalled yesterday. "Things just worked out. (Curtis) made a decision and that opened a door for me here.

"Toronto was my first choice, so I was happy. And I'm still happy."

Tonight, past meets present when Joseph, arguably the most popular athlete in this city during his four-season run in blue-and-white, lines up at the opposite end from Belfour as the Phoenix Coyotes face off against the Maple Leafs.

JUST ONCE BEFORE

Since leaving the Leafs, Joseph has faced his former teammates once. Back on Feb. 27, 2003, he was victorious as his Red Wings hammered the Leafs 7-2 at Joe Louis Arena.

But this is different.

This time, Joseph will make his first appearance on the Air Canada ice surface since putting his Leafs days behind him.

"I think it's always special when you go play your former team in their city," Belfour said.

"When I went back to Dallas for the first time, I had butterflies. I remember being nervous. But the fans were really good to me."

Will Toronto fans offer the same warm reception to Cujo tonight?

Captain Mats Sundin hopes so, but you never know.

Joseph's ties to the Toronto area are well-documented.

He still owns a home near King City, generously donates to charities like Sick Children's Hospital and has left the door open for a return to the Leafs should they want him.

The press certainly wanted him yesterday, swarming him with cameras and microphones at the conclusion of practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena.

It was the same type of media circus he was accustomed to as a Leaf.

"I asked Curtis three weeks ago if he wanted to play this game in Toronto and he said very much so," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "He had a very good practice today.

"He'll be ready."

Joseph looks forward to the challenge.

"With all the friends and family, there is a lot going on," he said. "You're always a bit nervous but maybe it will be a bit extra of that because I'm back at the Air Canada Centre.

"It's good to see the guys like (Sundin and Tie Domi) again. I had some wonderful times here."

THE DEAL WITH ... THE GOALIES

A look at how Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph have fared since the Eagle took over as the Maple Leafs' No. 1 goaltender in the summer of 2002:

BELFOUR JOSEPH

Games 154 123

GA 367 294

GAA 2.38 2.39

SO 17 9

W-L-T 89-52-13 66-41-9

(REGULAR-SEASON STATISTICS)


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