Bright spots emerge in gloomy season

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- There was a moment last night that will have to sustain the Maple Leafs through the summer.

Seven-and-a half minutes into the first period, rookie defenceman Ian White was cradling the puck near the Philadelphia Flyers' blue line.

Were he Bryan McCabe, White would have been looking at a couple options:

A. Shoot.

B. Shoot.

CREATIVE

But White, a smallish rookie not yet infected with the way things are done around here had a different take: a shot not into the pads of Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki but on to the tape of Jeff O'Neill's stick for an easy tap-in goal.

Which was all the Maple Leafs needed to start a convincing 5-2 roll over the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I'm hoping to play cool under pressure, show them I can handle it and hopefully eventually there will be a spot for me in the future," White said last night.

By my count, the move of the club's American Hockey League team from St. John's to the Ricoh Centre has saved Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment just over seven jagillion dollars. The Leafs have called up or sent down a defenceman 24 times this season.

And now, White, a 21-year-old kid from Winnipeg who didn't even dress for a handful of Marlies games, is one of the dirty half-dozen.

"We didn't get to see enough of them," groused Leafs coach Pat Quinn after the win.

"But I guess without the injuries, we might not have gotten to see as many as we did.

"Look at White. In our depth chart, he was down quite a ways. He's using the assets he has, quick feet, a good brain for moving the puck, and the size factor hasn't been hurting him because he keeps that inside position."

"It's encouraging, very encouraging," Leafs general manager John Ferguson said. "At the same time, all the difficulty they've encountered has been unfortunate."

Playing defence for the Leafs is no more dangerous than bouncing at a biker bar or sky-diving while blind. Still, it has made for interesting times.

When one rookie defenceman went down, he was replaced by the next in line with no downturn in performance.

The result is an ongoing audition. It's easier to get an audition on the Leafs' blue line than it is to get to the finals of Canadian Idol.

The 21-year-old White is plus-six with a goal and five assists in just seven games and averaging nearly 20 minutes a night.

Colaiacovo was becoming precisely the player the Leafs envisaged when a concussion in early March knocked him out of the lineup. He is starting light workouts, but since he is ineligible to play for the Marlies (he was a Leaf when injured and thus can't be sent down), his season is done.

Twenty-four-year old Jay Harrison showed well in eight games with the Leafs. He potted a goal and finished minus-five before a broken hand knocked him out of the lineup, where he remains to this day.

Journeyman Andy Wozniewski is unavailable with a dislocated elbow and is at least a week away.

Staffan Kronwall is skating but still days away because of an injury.

He, too, will be unavailable for the Marlies.

Brendan Bell is back in Toronto, recovering from an injury to his rib cage. He was sent down four times and finally managed a game. His Marlies stats, five goals and 33 assists, rate watching.

END OF THE LINE?

So there it is, your bright side and maybe a well-timed one at that.

The emergence of the kids could mean the end for Aki Berg and Wade Belak.

As the boys at MLSE like to say, behind every dark cloud is a platinum lining.


Videos

Photos