The signs of change were everywhere

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

As promised, the new, fan-friendly, better-than-ever, ultra-sanitized, fiscally-responsible National Hockey League arrived in Toronto last evening at precisely 7:35.

That's when the puck dropped on a Maple Leafs game at Air Canada Centre for the first time in 499 days.

Now, as you know, a wee bit of water has passed under the old bridge since Jeremy Roenick's overtime goal dismissed the Leafs from the Stanley Cup tournament on May 4, 2004.

GONE TO HOLLYWOOD

For one thing, Roenick no longer beats his gums in Philadelphia. He has gone Hollywood, one of maybe 150 veteran NHLers to change uniforms in the aftermath of the long-awaited collective bargaining agreement.

In any event, the bright lights came on last night and the evidence that things have changed was everywhere.

It began, in fact, a half-hour before the Leafs and Senators hit the ice when a friendly Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., executive approached a couple of ink-stained wretches in the media lounge.

"While I'm up, can I get you anything?" said the man in the nice threads.

A moment after we picked our jaws up off the table and mumbled a yes, the man re-appeared juggling a couple of Cokes with his designer water. Now this may seem like a baby step to mere mortals, but in the world of Leafs media relations, it was a giant step for mankind.

But that was just the beginning. The NHL has promised to bring us a more entertaining product, and to do it, they're going to call every ticky-tacky penalty in the book to allow their skilled players to dazzle us. At some point, the theory goes, the players and coaches will get the message and stop hooking and holding and slashing, etc.

If this game is any indication, it's going to be a painful detoxification process. The Leafs maintained their discipline for all of 95 seconds. That's how long it took for Wade Belak to pick up a tripping penalty for an infraction that wouldn't have registered on referee Kevin Pollock's radar two years ago.

Thus began a steady parade to the penalty box. By the time the Senators had beaten the Leafs 5-2, Pollock and his sidekick, Tom Kowal, had identified no fewer than 25 infractions.

Most damaging was a two-man Leafs disadvantage that Ottawa capitalized on for its first goal. The second Toronto penalty in that situation came as a result of a new wrinkle in the rule book that prevents skaters from intentionally (in the ref's view) shooting the puck out of play. Previously, only goaltenders were penalized for such infractions.

By the end of the game, two other players -- Toronto's Eric Lindros and Ottawa's Chris Neil -- had been nailed for this bogus breach of the rules. We can only hope that of all the innovations to help make the game more appealing, this one will be the first to be rescinded.

One that won't be rescinded is the shootout. Even though they didn't need to break a tie last evening, the Sens and Leafs engaged in one anyway, just for fun. And who has more fun than the new NHL, anyway?

For the record, the Leafs won the mock shootout 2-0, Sundin and Lindros each beating Ray Emery on the glove side.

They are going to be a heckuva shootout team, if they can ever tie anybody.

But that wasn't the best single moment of this first night of the new NHL.

Halfway through the first period, during a television timeout, the Kiss Camera made its first appearance of the season.

Importantly, it's not just the Kiss Camera but The Toronto Sun Kiss Camera.

This is a cute little time-waster whereby couples in the audience are shown on the big screen and urged to pucker up for the camera.

BIG, WET ONE

The last two people whose mugs were shown on the screen were Ottawa players Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson ... and Fisher promptly obliged, planting a big wet one on Alfie's helmet.

Now that's something you'd never see in the old NHL.

Maybe that's a good thing.


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