No Bushwood under Maurice

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

Asked how Training Camp 2006 has differed from those under the Pat Quinn regime, one Maple Leafs veteran recently responded with a sadistic laugh.

"In golfing terms, it's like going from Bushwood to The National," he crowed.

Bushwood, of course, was the country club in the cult flick Caddyshack where chaos reigned supreme.

PLACE LEFT IN SHAMBLES

This was a place where the assistant greenskeeper left the grounds in shambles after unsuccessfully attempting to blow up a local gopher.

The player' s inference was that Bushwood was the equivalent to one of Quinn's camps.

The National, on the other hand, is one of the most respected layouts in Canada where members are expected to tow the line.

This, said the veteran, is what life under Paul Maurice has been like for the past three weeks.

Without passing judgment on Quinn here -- six consecutive playoff appearances should not be ignored -- there is no denying how the environment surrounding this team has changed.

While the gruelling opening day of camp left hard-luck defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo woozy and wobbly, there were many others gasping and wheezing all over the Ricoh Coliseum ice courtesy of Maurice's workaholic demands.

No longer would veterans be given the benefit of a doubt like they were at times with Quinn, who was fiercely loyal, almost to a fault.

The obvious example is the way Maurice has handled the Jeff O'Neill situation. In the head coach's mind, the veteran winger, who is coming off shoulder surgery, is not in acceptable game shape yet, leaving him in civvies for the final two pre-season games against the Detroit Red Wings over the weekend.

The message to be taken from this: If you're not fit, you sit.

It's a blunt statement, but that's the way Maurice is.

Sure, he sprinkles humour in there, but, in the end, he's a bottom line guy.

That's why he hasn't filled fans with visions of an impending Stanley Cup parade.

And that's why he is not promising an immediate end to the Leafs' 40-year championship drought.

Instead, the former bench boss of the Carolina Hurricanes pulls no punches with his sobering statement that his Leafs will be in a dogfight for a playoff spot all season.

After watching the Leafs the past three weeks it is easy to see why Maurice feels that way. There seem to be more question marks on this squad than there were on Frank Gorshin's Riddler costume from the old Batman series.

Will they continue to struggle for goals 5-on-5 as they did a year ago? Consider, for a moment, that the Leafs managed just three even strength goals in their final four exhibition games.

Are newcomers Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill worth the combined $7 million US per season shelled out to them in free agency by general manager John Ferguson? Gill's plodding gait won't remind anyone of Yvan (The Roadrunner) Cournoyer while Kubina can not have brain drains like the one that led him to cross-check the Red Wings' Jiri Hudler in the throat last night.

Who will provide the goals up front other than Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker? After watching his team score just 21 goals in eight exhibition games, Maurice needs the likes of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Kyle Wellwood, Matt Stajan, Alexander Steen and John Pohl to step up to the plate.

Will Andrew Raycroft resemble the guy who allowed a couple of softies in Detroit Saturday night or the goalie who looked in control last night?

Maurice needs answers to these queries as soon as possible.

Maybe you don't clinch a post-season berth in October.But you can certainly lose one by flushing away points in the first month of the regular season.

GOOD START NEEDED

And with four meetings with the hated Sens looming in the next four weeks, a good start is imperative for Team Maurice.

A year ago, the Leafs went 1-7 against their provincial rivals and ended up on the golf course at playoff time. Come next April, they don't want to be there again, whether it be at Bushwood or the National.


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