O'Neill to see how other half lives

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

Jeff O'Neill has trudged through the RBC Center's doors countless times in his NHL career, but this time will be different.

This time, he'll have to turn left.

"For so many years, I would walk into that rink, hang a right and go into the Hurricanes locker room," O'Neill said yesterday. "I don't even know what the hell the other locker room looks like."

O'Neill, the former Carolina Hurricane-turned-Maple Leaf, will find that out first-hand today when he arrives for Toronto's morning skate and suits up in the visitors' digs.

About an hour later, the emotions are certain to be swirling inside the King City native as he steps on to the familiar ice surface for the first time since being traded to the Leafs during the summer.

The fact that he requested the deal has nothing to do with his dislike for Carolina, where he played for eight seasons.

It had everything to do with the sudden death of his older brother, Don, in a traffic accident, a tragedy that left Jeff yearning to be back near his family in southern Ontario.

"If I didn't play in Toronto, I wouldn't be playing anywhere this season," O'Neill said, reaffirming the stance he has taken all along.

O'Neill still maintains close ties with friends in the Raleigh, N.C., community, including many of his golfing buddies at the Raleigh Country Club.

After a scheduled dinner date with several chums last night, O'Neill's plans included cleaning up his home on Tobacco Road, which was recently snapped up.

"I was kind of hoping my house was going to stay for sale for a while -- you know, somewhere I could stay during my summertime visits to play golf -- but it sold pretty quick," he said. "I'm just going to stop by and pick up some winter jackets because I'm going to need them (in Toronto)."

Will he need earplugs, too, to keep from hearing any boos raining down on him when he takes on the Hurricanes? Probably not. A fan favourite in Carolina, he did nothing to burn any bridges when he left.

"I've never really talked bad about anything down there so I don't expect anything negative,"he said.

"Me being in Toronto, being on a new team, this is a first for me, something really different. We'll see how the fans respond."


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