New guys excited to get started

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

Jason Allison was just glad to be back on the ice.

Andy Wozniewski was just glad to be on the roster.

Eric Lindros and Jeff O'Neill were just glad to be decked out in those beloved blue-and-white jerseys.

It was a virtual love-in for the seven players who were making their Maple Leafs debuts last night against the Ottawa Senators, a list that also included veterans Alexander Khavanov, Mariusz Czerkawski and rookie Alex Steen.

For Allison, this was more than just a chance to play for his hometown team.

It was an opportunity to revive his career.

Neck and back ailments kept Allison from playing a regular-season NHL game since January 2003, a span of 33 months.

So if anyone had something to prove when he stepped onto the ice at the ACC, it was him.

"I've missed a lot of time and it has been a hard road back, so this is awesome," the former Washington Capital, Boston Bruin and Los Angeles King said. "After being off for 2 1/2 years, I'm in a good place. I'm happy here.

"When you grow up with a passion for a team -- and every kid here does, given how much Toronto loves hockey -- it's meaningful to come back here and play. Hopefully, its a long relationship."

Across the way in the Maple Leafs dressing room was Wozniewski, the wide-eyed kid from suburban Chicago who prepared to embark on the highlight of his hockey career.

"Playing in the NCAA (playoffs) with Wisconsin was big, but it's nothing compared to this," Wozniewski, the Cinderella story of training camp, said. "I keep having to pinch myself to make sure this is all actually happening.

"Opening night in Toronto. This definitely is in a league of its own."

Wozniewski's mother and two brothers flew into Toronto for Andy's big night.

"It is such a special occasion," he said. "It is a memory I will cherish forever."

Allison could not have said it any better.


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