O'Neill clan full of fight

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

Paul Maurice does not appear to be a popular figure with the O'Neill family these days.

Speaking publicly for the first time since being scratched for the Maple Leafs' final two pre-season games, embattled forward Jeff O'Neill said yesterday that Maurice's decision to sit him did not go over well with his family.

Asked if there was friction between he and the veteran coach, O'Neill shrugged his shoulders matter-of-factly.

SOMETHING TO SAY

"I don't know," he said. "I hope my cousins don't run into him somewhere because they'll have something to say to him."

For the record, O'Neill will be in the lineup for the regular-season curtain raiser against the Ottawa Senators tonight, lining up beside centre John Pohl and winger Bates Battaglia.

But don't read too much into the move.

"We needed a winger," Maurice said, referring to the hole left in the lineup created by the recent lower right leg injury to Nik Antropov.

In other words, this situation is far from over.

During his five minute session with the media, O'Neill implied several times that he would examine his options if the Leafs brass is not happy with his performance. Those suggestions come several days after his father urged the team to put his son on waivers if they felt Jeff was not up to snuff.

"I'm just going to go out there and try to prove people wrong," O'Neill told reporters. "I think that after listening to you people and all this other B.S. the past couple of days, I just want to go out there, work hard and prove I belong. If (the Leafs) don't think I do, then things will change.

"I worked hard before camp, into camp and will continue to work my hardest. We'll see where that takes me. If that's not sufficient for what they want here, we'll see what happens from there.

"That's my goal, score goals again, enjoy coming to the rinks, enjoy my teammates and have fun. I felt good about myself. I'm just going to get back to that."

Maurice and O'Neill had a hot-and-cold relationship during their lengthy tenure together with the Carolina Hurricanes. While O'Neill at times criticized his coach during their days on Tobacco Road, Maurice's no-nonsense tactics did motivate the skilled winger to a career high 41 goals in 2000-01.

Now, with the two having reunited in Toronto, Maurice said he is attempting to push O'Neill to those heights once again.

"This isn't motivational," Maurice said. "I just have a vision of him as a player.

"I think he's a great player. He could play 21, 22 minutes a night in those days. In order for him to score 40 or more, he's going to have to get back to the point where he can perform at that level.

"He has worked very hard since his (spring shoulder surgery) and has done everything we've asked."

Obviously, Maurice and Co. are looking for more.


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