Hey Fred, Barney's back

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

Fred and Barney are together again.

With defenceman Ian White expected to return to the Maple Leafs lineup tonight after a three-week absence, he'll find himself paired with former partner Hal Gill. Roommates on the road, they earned the nickname Fred and Barney from teammates earlier in the season because of the height discrepancy between the towering 6-foot-7 Gill and the diminutive 5-foot-10 White.

In an interesting twist to this plot, White will make his comeback versus the same Carolina Hurricanes team that he first hurt himself against.

During the Leafs' 4-1 loss to the visiting Hurricanes on Jan. 9, White slammed into the boards while scurrying to touch the puck for an icing call, separating his shoulder in the process.

But he vows the incident will not lead to any trepidation in his game when he steps onto the ice at the RBC Center against the defending Stanley Cup champions this evening.

"Watching has been really tough, so I'm ready to play," White said yesterday. "(The shoulder) feels fine so it's full speed ahead.

"Carolina's a great team so it's going to be a grind. Every point is so important at this point in the season."

Coach Paul Maurice warned that his defence pairings are not etched in stone for the long term, but there is one partnership that has proved to be very effective in recent weeks.

Just call them the Czech mates.

Ever since Maurice opted to separate Tomas Kaberle from Bryan McCabe and move him alongside fellow Czech Republic native Pavel Kubina, the duo has responded quite positively.

Kubina especially has thrived since the switch was made, scoring all four of his goals in the past eight games.

Familiarity obviously agrees with both players.

Kaberle recalls first meeting Kubina "when we both were about 16 at a camp for the Czech junior team."

Their impressions of each other?

"He was a big guy, bigger than most of the other players," Kaberle said. "You really noticed him."

It was Kaberle's speed that caught Kubina's eye.

"He was so fast and so smooth with the puck," Kubina said.

Both would go on to play together a handful of times with the Czech national team, opportunities that allowed them to become better acquainted with each other out on the ice.

Little did they know at the time that the partnership one day would be revived in Toronto.

But last July 1, as Kubina was contemplating the four-year, $20-million US deal offered by the Leafs, he called Kaberle for a scouting report on hockey life in Toronto.

"I knew that's where I wanted to play, but Tomas told me what a great place it was to play in," Kubina said.

"He said there was lots of pressure, too, but that's all part of it."

Kaberle said the transition from partnering with McCabe to Kubina has been a smooth one.

"Pavel and I have played together before so we're comfortable out there," he said.


Photos