Bell shifts into forward gear

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

In the hours leading up to the game last Saturday, the Maple Leafs' Brendan Bell quickly tapped out a short text message to his brother.

"I'm playing left wing!" the e-mail said.

It was, Bell said, the best way to tell his family he'd be playing forward for the first time since he was eight years old.

"My parents aren't up on that text messaging stuff, so I knew my brother would pass on the news," Bell said.

There could be a similar text message making the rounds tonight when the Leafs are home to the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre.

With Michael Peca, Kyle Wellwood and Darcy Tucker on the shelf and Boyd Devereaux battling a nagging wrist ailment, Bell found himself back at forward alongside Travis Green and Wade Belak at practice yesterday.

Is Bell, normally a defenceman, following Belak and turning into a swing man?

"We defencemen are naturally smarter than any forwards, so he'll be all right," Belak said. "He's fine out there. You just go up and down your wing and hit everybody."

Because Bell must be put on waivers if the Leafs attempt to send him down to the Marlies, he has been offered to a number of teams as the Feb. 27 trade deadline approaches.

"It's part of the job description," Bell said. "Anyone is tradable."

Either way, his flexibility to play either defence or forward makes him a valuable commodity for a Toronto organization that still has defencemen Andy Wozniewski, Staffan Kronwall and Jay Harrison waiting in the wings.

"It's a different animal," Bell said of playing up front. "But getting a good practice in like this really does help.

"I'll do whatever I can to help the team. If that means playing up front, then so be it."

Coach Paul Maurice liked what he saw from Bell.

"At one point he split the defence and was giggling as he skated by them," Maurice said. "He scored a really nice goal. I look at (the move) as a positive for Brendan because it shows our confidence in him."

For his part,Bell has no aspirations of being the next Wayne Gretzky.

"I'm still here and that's all that matters," he said. "If this is what it takes to stick around, fine. Still my ultimate goal hasn't changed. I don't just want to be a defenceman, I want to be a great defenceman."


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