Toskala takes charge in Leaf net

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:47 PM ET

Vesa Toskala barely had fished the puck out of his net when the ridicule started.

The Maple Leafs goaltender had just been the victim of one of the most humiliating moments of the 2007-08 season, a 190-foot bouncer from the opposing goal line that took a late skip over his shoulder and into the cage, the exclamation point on one of the longest goals in NHL history.

By the time the crowd had been informed by the Nassau Coliseum announcer that the goal had been scored by the New York Islanders’ Rob Davison, video evidence of the flub already had been posted on youtube. Ouch.

Out in San Jose, Sharks coach Ron Wilson and his players, watching the game on television in the dressing room, couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed. There was Davison, the former Shark who was often mocked during his days in San Jose for his inability to score, as the recipient of a gift from Toskala, his ex-teammate with the Sharks.

“We quickly text-messaged Vesa,” Wilson said with a laugh.

Looking back, the embarrassment of the moment likely will last long after Toskala, 31, has hung up his pads and retired.

Of course, one important fact has been lost in all of this.

Vesa Toskala did not allow another goal for the remainder of the game , helping his Leafs come back to defeat the Islanders 2-1 on a damp Long Island night last March.

That’s Vesa Toskala for you. He doesn’t get rattled. Or upset. As soon as the faceoff at centre ice took place after the Davison goal, the incident was forgotten.

“It says a lot about Vesa,” said Wilson, now Toskala’s coach with the Leafs. “He is a calm, cool, collected guy who stays level-headed. He doesn’t let things bother him, which is a good attribute to have as a goalie.”

Wilson would know.

During his stint as Sharks coach, Wilson saw first hand what Toskala could do. While the unflappable Finn was forced to fight for playing time with Russian puckstopper Evgeni Nabokov, Wilson always figured Toskala had the stuff to be a bonafide No. 1 NHL goaltender.

In Toronto, that is exactly what he will be.

After the Leafs indulged in some strange experiment early last season in which beleaguered goalie Andrew Raycroft was given an opportunity to win the starters role, Toskala, who should have been anointed No. 1 from the get go, took over the job and ran with it, proving to management that he deserved to be The Guy.

Of course, be careful what you wish for, Mr. Toskala. The young inexperienced Leafs will leave him with some busy nights this season, although Toskala has higher hopes for this team than most of the so-called experts.

“We don’t care what is said outside this room,” Toskala said. “We believe in ourselves and that’s all that matters. Ron Wilson is a very good coach. I can guarantee you this: We will block more shots this year. Ron and the coaching staff preach that. Guys are still learning, but you can already see the improvement.

“As for playing in Toronto, I really enjoy it. It’s fun to play in a place where hockey means so much to people.”

Toskala, who posted 33 victories and a respectable 2.74 goals-against average last season, was once an aspiring chef. Any recipe for success for the Leafs this season will certainly start with him.

VESA TOSKALA

Age: 31

Born: May 20, 1977 in Tampere, Finland

Position: Goalie

Height: 5-foot-10

Weight: 195 pounds

Drafted: 90th overall in the 1996 entry draft by the San Jose Sharks

Career notes: On June 22, 2007 Toskala and forward Mark Bell were traded by the Sharks to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Toronto’s first-round (13th overall, which was later dealt by the Sharks to the St. Louis Blues) and second-round picks as well as Toronto’s fourth-round pick in 2009.

NHL numbers: 181 games, 98 wins, 53 losses, five ties, 11 overtime losses, 11 shutouts, 2.49 goals-against average, .910 save percentage in regular season; 11 games, six wins, five losses, one shutout, 2.45 goals-against average, .910 save percentage in playoffs.


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