Playing the mental game

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:56 PM ET


 If the Maple Leafs are going to intimidate the Senators, it won't happen with fisticuffs.

 In fact, physical intimidation might not happen at all.

 There is no shortage of physical players who wear the Toronto uniform -- forwards Gary Roberts and Tie Domi and defencemen Bryan McCabe and Bryan Marchment, among others, love to hammer people -- but it's the mental side of having an effect on the opposition that could work.

 "You try to set a tone where the other team will say, 'Geez, these guys are going to be there in our face all night long and they are not going to give it up,' " Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "So they have to find a way to match it or even be better. That's the mental battle that athletes and teams have to play against each other.

 "You can get an edge because some players say 'I am getting checked tonight and I don't want to fight through it.' They get frustrated and the fans get on them and they hide worse."

 "DOESN'T EXIST"

 The Leafs may think that trying to physically intimidate the Senators won't work. Winger Alex Mogilny said yesterday that "aspect of the game doesn't really exist anymore."

 But that's not to say the opposition doesn't know what it is in for when the Leafs are playing. When they are not injured, Darcy Tucker and Owen Nolan also become part of the Leafs' hit brigade on the forecheck. This is where the mental aspect that Quinn discussed becomes involved.

 Boston Bruins defenceman Nick Boynton, for one, said he has to be sharper against the Leafs.

 "I find that type of hockey is the toughest to play for a defenceman," Boynton, a participant in the all-star game this winter, said. "When the other team dumps the puck and you know they are not going to come and hit you, it makes your job a lot easier. Toronto has a lot of guys who finish their checks and we have to move the puck quicker.

 "I don't know if intimidating is the word, but it is a tougher team to play against than guys who don't finish their checks."

 Quinn is lucky in that he does not have to coax that style of play from his charges. They do it willingly, but he does have to remind them intermittently not to go overboard. No matter how the Leafs do it, getting an opponent to crack is a main goal. Inflicting mental damage while protecting your own mental state can be a difficult balance to maintain.

 DEVILS DID IT

 "I've seen (New Jersey Devils coach) Pat Burns say it," Quinn said. "He did not have the best team in the league last year but they won the Stanley Cup. A lot of that was that he might have had the best team mentally. They weren't going to give you anything and by the end of the night you would be frustrated so much that you would make the mistakes."


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