Duty calls for Leafs' Rask

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

The Maple Leafs could know today whether goalie Tuukka Rask will be here for training camp or camped out with the Finnish army.

After going on the assumption that last year's No. 1 pick would be able to keep the Leafs, the army, the Finnish national squad and his Finnish club team happy, Rask might now begin his nine-month compulsory military service as early as this month and make his NHL camp debut in 2007.

Though the Leafs weren't expecting Rask to challenge for a job until that date, general manager John Ferguson had said Rask and 2004 top pick Justin Pogge will play in exhibition games and the club was open to one staying in the NHL as long as he played regularly.

"The last time I spoke to Tuukka and asked him if he was in the army now, he said he'd know (today)," said Mike Penny, the Leafs director of player personnel. "Obviously, you'd love to have him here, but some things are out of your control."

The army hitch doesn't always involve rigorous full-time service and Finnish pro athletes have been known to get favourable assignments near a city of their choice.

Bill Zito, Rask's Chicago-based agent, says the army option has nothing to do with Rask not yet signing a contract with the Leafs. Having made a minimum contract offer to retain Rask's rights, the Leafs have a year from tomorrow to sign him or he goes back in the draft pool.

"This is not a contract issue, it's a lifestyle decision," Zito said. "We're finding out how to balance the military and whether to come this year or next."


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