Kubina bides his time

Pavel Kubina.  (SUN/Fred Thornhill)

Pavel Kubina. (SUN/Fred Thornhill)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:43 AM ET

TAMPA -- Pavel Kubina quietly slinked through a doorway in the bowels of the St. Pete's Times Forum and into the Tampa Bay Lightning weight room, slipping under the radar of his former teammates in the process.

Momentarily, that is.

When Brad Richards and company finally did catch a glimpse of the towering defenceman with the bushy weave standing between the bench presses and bar bells, the hooting and hollering began.

"Aren't there any hair stylists in Toronto?" Richards asked jokingly, referring to the lengthy locks being sported by Kubina these days.

One by one Tampa players went down to greet Kubina, extending hand shakes and high fives. It was an upbeat reunion, to be sure.

But they were not the only ones euphoric to see the 6-foot-4 defenceman yesterday.

Maple Leafs players and officials were very upbeat after watching Kubina participate in his first full practice since straining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a collision with the Florida Panthers' Todd Bertuzzi at the Air Canada Centre back on Oct. 9.

In a perfect world, Kubina, 29, would be in the Leafs lineup tonight against his former team, stepping on to the same ice surface upon which he hoisted the Stanley Cup 29 months ago.

"Game time decision," he laughed.

That's not going to happen. He knows that.

Instead a more realistic goal in his mind might be the matchup against the Bruins in Boston on Nov. 9.

"Maybe sometime the middle of next week," he said. "That would be great. We'll see how the knee goes after having hard practises the next couple of days.

"I still have a big brace on my left leg and that bugs me a little bit. The legs are still a little stiff too. You still think about the knee a bit when you cross over and any time you push hard. You have to get that out of your head and get ready for, hopefully next week.

"I have great memories here. You make friends here for life. And the memories from (the Cup), that's something you will never forget."

Kubina's absence from a primarily young Maple Leafs blue line has been noticeable. In the nine games since his injury the Leafs have allowed less than four goals just two times.

Rookies like Ian White and Brendan Bell have played beyond their years in picking up the slack, but the stability and experience Kubina brings to the table definitely has been missed.

In that regard, Kubina's return would allow the likes of Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle to recharge their batteries and not have to gobble up 30 minutes of ice time each per game.

"It's great to see him getting better," McCabe said. "He's a guy who logs a lot of ice time and chews up a lot of minutes at both ends of the ice."

Whenever Kubina does return, Maple Leafs finally will get a peek at the defence corps general manager John Ferguson envisioned when he signed Kubina and Hal Gill during the summer.

"We've had so many injuries as usual for Maple Leafs defencemen," McCabe said. "It will be nice to get him back and get a healthy crew going."


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