Razor Sharp

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:31 PM ET

If you live in Belleville and follow the Maple Leafs, this isn't a good year to be east of Wallbridge-Loyalist Road.

That is Checkpoint Charlie for cable broadcasts of the Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, with those on the eastern side force-fed the Sens, while the west falls into Toronto's catchment.

Thanks to Andrew (Razor) Raycroft, a lot of Bellevillians are making excuses to cross the street to the Blue and White zone, invest in a satellite dish or if need be, drive west to Trenton.

"My mom and dad are having trouble catching our games, too," Raycroft said the other day with a laugh. "Their house is just on the (wrong side of the ) border."

Tom and Linda's boy is now must-see TV in the town of 46,000, which was already Leafs-friendly when ex -junior Bulls Kyle Wellwood and Matt Stajan joined Toronto last year. But civic pride swells with each win Raycroft puts in the books.

"He is born-and-bred Belleville, a delightful, down-to-earth kid," said Paul Svoboda, a sports writer with the Belleville Intelligencer. "His dad has an insurance company, his mom is an assistant bank manager at the Royal Bank and they are one of the most solid families around here.

"Andrew prefers a low profile when he returns, but whenever (ex-NHLer) Rick Meagher has his charity golf tournament for playground equipment for the handicapped, Andrew is there."

His good upbringing manifests itself every day that Raycroft goes under the spotlight in Toronto. After nine years of name goaltenders Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, the Leafs were grilled for giving up a first-round pick and three years at $6 million US for a relative 26-year-old pup, rated third on the Boston Bruins depth chart.

But Raycroft might be the first Toronto stopper since Felix Potvin to actually be comfortable in this milieu. Unlike the sensitive Joseph or the surly Belfour, he came with a proven and formulated game plan for life in the Leafs fishbowl.

"My father runs a small-town business that depends on maintaining trust and good relationships," Raycroft said." I watched him deal with many ups and downs and that taught me to deal with difficulties as best I can."

He has been able to weather the Toronto media mob, from the fawners to the pessimists, wryly noting that even if the Leafs stun the world and win the Stanley Cup this season, some are bound to say it was a fluke.

"That's what we're most proud of, the way he handles himself," Linda Raycroft said. "A lot of pro athletes answer questions in grunts and one-word answers. One night when Andrew was 17 and playing in Sudbury, he was interviewed here on CJBQ and Tom and I were amazed at how intelligent he sounded. He has always taken a logical approach to questions, to be like his father as much as he can."

Linda recalls Tom even influenced Andrew's kindergarten wardrobe.

"Tom goes to work every day with a shirt and tie and when we went school shopping the very first time, Andrew wanted five dress shirts, ties and dress pants. Tom said he'll either get beaten up or get instant respect in the schoolyard."

Raycroft's demeanour was tested during a miserable 2004-05 in Boston: Unable to duplicate his pre-lockout Calder Trophy season, slowed by a knee injury and provoking the frugal Bruins in the worst way by holding out for more money. There are conflicting claims about when the point of no return was reached. The Bs insisted he wanted a trade. Raycroft said he gave up that idea in mid-season to win his job back, and that the team gave up on him.

Before leaving for a European holiday in June, Raycroft joked with agent Jordan Neumann that he wanted a Leafs sweater waiting for him at the airport upon his return.

And, on NHL draft day, with Raycroft asleep in his hotel in Rome, a flurry of cellphone calls heralded his trade to Toronto for young goalie prospect Tuukka Rask.

Before getting on the ice with his new mates, Raycroft went to Toronto goaltending coach Steve McKichan's summer school in Strathroy to get acquainted.

"The first time I saw Andrew was his rookie year, when I was doing video pre-scouting for games against Boston," McKichan said. "I was so impressed with him, that I retained a lot of the tape for kids at my camps.

"He plays a patient butterfly, not just an automatic block-and-guess. It's a combination of positioning and strong reaction and he is also a cognitive goaltender, which all lends itself to consistency."

After three years of watching Belfour's stand-up style, the public's first reviews of Raycroft seemed to show a tendency to go down too quickly. Yet the predicted plethora of top-shelf goals did not result.

"You see that trait in modern goalies, to go down and protect the bottom of the net, but Andrew does it only in reaction to the puck," McKichan said. "He goes to a proper depth in the net to (drop) and challenge the shooter, picking that depth carefully so he can take care of the top shelf.

"Goalies like him won't look amazing in shinny, but with a game on the line, they know how to connect the dots."

One of Belleville's best minor hockey coaches is Harold Townsend, a champion water-skier, who felt as though he'd hit the pier at full speed the day his novice all-star forward Raycroft announced he wanted to play goal.

"Harold followed us all around the soccer fields that summer, begging Tom and I to change Andrew's mind," Linda said. "But we've always supported both our kids (younger sister Jillian is a personal trainer) in whatever they do. We just told Andrew he had to follow it through, even wearing full goalie equipment to power skating school."

Andrew got into netminding for the same reason lots of kids do.

"The cool mask, with all that equipment ... it just got inside a 7-year-old's head," he laughed. "But my dad said 'fine' and we went out the next day and rented some pads."

Raycroft starred in the Belleville area, first at Memorial Arena and then at Yardmen Arena, built by one of the town's main employers in the old days, Canadian National Railways.

A Canadiens' fan as a boy when Patrick Roy led them to the 1986 Stanley Cup, Raycroft changed allegiance in 1993, emulating Potvin, the young Leafs goalie whose team would go on a memorable 21-game playoff run.

Drafted by Sudbury, Raycroft spent two unfulfilling years up north.

"They had a straight two-goalie system and he flew under the radar at the '98 NHL draft," recalled Bruins scout Bob Tindall. "He was our fourth pick in a year that wasn't strong for a young goalie. But you couldn't help but be impressed by him. You'd go out to dinner with some of the Sudbury kids and they'd be saying 'stupid coach' for not playing Andrew, but he never said a word in anger.

"He was the same in Boston, even when he wasn't playing. There was no complaining, no talk of 'I'm getting screwed here'."

A 1999 trade to Kingston brought him under the tutelage of Larry Mavety, who gave him the No. 1 job as long as he pulled his weight. Raycroft played 61 games and was Canadian junior goalie of the year.

"I owe Mav a lot," he said.

His first years with the Bruins coincided with Potvin's twilight in the NHL. But they got along famously, "like the dog in the stable with Seabiscuit," said Boston Globe columnist Kevin Paul Dupont, leading to the Calder Trophy.

"I learned from how Felix conducted himself," Raycroft said. "He could lose 1-0 or 7-0, but never took it seriously. To him, you were just playing a game."

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BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT ...

Born May 4, 1980 in Belleville.

Girlf riend Erin is from Foxboro, Mass. They p lan to wed next year in Boston.

Other NHLers from the Belleville area include Bobby and D ennis Hull, Rick Meagher and Marc Crawford .

First goalie to be Ontario Hockey League MVP since Glenn Hall and Bill Harrington won back-to-back in 1951 and '52. Fourth Leaf goalie to have won the Cald er Trophy elsewhere, (Ed Belfour, Tom Barrasso,Terry Sawchuk) .

Has worn No. 1 most of his career, including a lockout stint in Tappara, Finland .


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