Minor Leafs to get taste of playoffs

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:47 PM ET


 OTTAWA -- A losing season for the St. John's Maple Leafs still might have some benefits for the parent team.

 Toronto general manager John Ferguson Jr. yesterday confirmed that coach Doug Shedden will be back next year and that a few players, including forward Clark Wilm and defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo, likely will join the Leafs' taxi squad before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final.

 The St. John's Maple Leafs (32-36-8-4) did not make the American Hockey League playoffs.

 "The bottom line is that we didn't get done what we wanted from a results standpoint and no one is satisfied with that," Ferguson said yesterday. "But a number of our top go-to guys had injury-interrupted seasons. When we had our group together, we were a very formidable team.

 'FINISHED HARD'

 "I liked the fact we finished real hard through a lot of adversity at the end. Really, an overtime loss kept us from being in it until the last two games of the season against Toronto (Roadrunners)."

 Now that rookie AHL coach Shedden has completed post-season player interviews, Ferguson wants some of the farmhands to experience the NHL playoff atmosphere. That's especially true of Colaiacovo, who is expected to challenge for a job with the Leafs next season.

 "(Getting called up) can be a character builder, but it's his play that warranted it and that's the most important thing," Ferguson said of Colaiacovo. "A lot of guys had strong first years and good second years. We used Harold Druken and Wilm and they were capable callups. They might be guys we look to (if the Leafs have a long playoffs)."

 While Shedden was hired when Pat Quinn held Ferguson's job, that circumstance and the low finish this season didn't diminish his status with the new regime.

 GREAT STRIDES

 "You can absolutely say (he'll return)," Ferguson said. "I like his enthusiasm, his commitment, his demeanour around the players. We had guys who made great strides. (Defencemen) Jay Harrison, Colaiacovo, Pierre Hedin and Brendan Bell improved as the year went on. (Forward) Kyle Wellwood was at or near the top of rookie AHL scoring."

 Ferguson was also given the job of a long-range review of the St. John's affiliation with the Leafs. The agreement expires at the end of the 2004-05 season and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. continues to negotiate with St. John's and team officials on settling the latter's estimated $1.5-million annual development fee it pays to MLSEL.


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