Leafs crunch numbers

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Just call the streamlined 2006 Maple Leafs training camp Survivor: Ricoh.

Determined to establish both a tight ship and playoff mindset -- after lacking both the previous season -- the Leafs will work with a bare-bones camp of 50-odd players beginning Sept. 14 at Ricoh Coliseum. That's 15 to 20 less bodies than usual, one of their smallest September gatherings in recent memory.

"We want to get right into system work," general manager John Ferguson said. "We'll have somewhere around 50 to 52 players. Maybe we'll add a couple of players on amateur tryouts, but I don't think we'll have many on pro tryouts (from the National Hockey League or American Hockey League)."

With such a small working number, new coach Paul Maurice should be able to better implement similar systems for the Leafs and the AHL Marlies -- and will need to cut just a few once the junior players are returned to their respective teams.

"One of the main benefits is that we'll have players making hard, NHL passes right away," Maurice said. "Nothing against the kids, but some don't have the physical maturity for some of the work. You don't want to have to slow down."

The Leafs have a rookie camp starting Sept. 8, followed by a three-team tourney with the Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers and York University. The best rookies will get a shot with the big team, looking ahead to Sept. 17's Blue and White game, followed by the first of nine NHL exhibitions.

Judging by the pace of scrimmages at Lakeshore Lions Arena this week, 20-odd Leafs and Marlies have already begun job competition, at least as far as conditioning is concerned.

"They know there's a new sheriff in town with Paul," Leafs strength coach Matt Nichol said after dropping by the rink earlier this week.

Defenceman Jay Harrison, who played in eight games with Toronto last year, is glad there will be a more condensed camp, but said that didn't mean an easier route to earning a full-time position. Six defenders who saw time with the Marlies last year will be fighting for the two or three jobs behind Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill.

"It all means the tempo will be hot about 30 seconds after we pick up our sticks," Harrison said yesterday.


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