Raycroft ready, willing

Andrew Raycroft, fresh off his Tahiti honeymoon, says he's more comfortable today than he was a...

Andrew Raycroft, fresh off his Tahiti honeymoon, says he's more comfortable today than he was a year ago even with Vesa Toskala now aboard. (Sun Media/Dave Thomas)

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Andrew Raycroft spent his honeymoon in Tahiti, knowing he'd have to one day come back and patch up his marriage with Maple Leafs management and fans.

That task began in earnest yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena where the goaltender joined the first team workouts of the year, informal practices ahead of next month's official training camp for 2007-08.

Raycroft's first Leaf season ended in a chorus of boos on April 7 at the Air Canada Centre when he allowed four goals on 20 shots and was pulled in a must-win game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Back-up Jean-Sebastien Aubin helped the Leafs rally for the Game 82 decision, but they missed the playoffs by a point the next day.

Yesterday was the first time Raycroft has donned the pads since, but in the interim, Toronto acquired Vesa Toskala in a trade from San Jose and the talk began of Raycroft being relegated to No. 2 or traded to free up his $2 million US in cap space.

STEERED CLEAR

"You don't hear a lot about hockey in Tahiti," said Raycroft, who married Erin in her native Boston in July and claimed to have steered clear of the sports pages since.

"All I can say is that I had good conversations with (general manager) John Ferguson and (coach) Paul Maurice and they've told me we now have two good goaltenders and that's what it's going to be (heading into camp).

"Yeah, it's a different situation for me, but personally, I feel 100% better coming in to this season than last year. For me, there aren't as many questions (about his ability to last in the National Hockey League, which dogged his last year with the Bruins)."

But for the first time in about 15 years, there was a strong sense of a starting goaltending void with the Leafs. Raycroft allowed many soft goals and the crash against the Canadiens was the last straw for critics that he didn't 'steal' enough big games. Yet he appeared in a career high 72 games, 26 of those consecutively, and tied the club record of 37 wins in one season.

Talk about contradictions.

"I don't see it the way some people do, but in the end, we didn't make the playoffs," Raycroft concluded. "Sure I would've liked it to have ended differently. And it would have been nice to have had someone else come in (when he faltered). That's not a slap against J.S., because he had his own issues (and was since let go by the club). It wasn't easy for him to be sitting all the time."

THIRD GOALIE IN MIX

Toskala is getting paid No. 1 money at $4 million a year, while a third goalie is in the mix now. Scott Clemmensen was the seldom-used understudy to Martin Brodeur in New Jersey and coincidentally, is a fellow client of Raycroft's agent, Jordan Neumann.

Neumann told Sun Media last month that "basically, we understand Scott is the third goalie until further notice", with emphasis on working with projected Leaf stopper Justin Pogge of the AHL's Marlies.

There were no signs of the Finn Toskala or Clemmensen yesterday at Lakeshore, though players usually skate closer to their own homes before camp.

Defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo's twin brother Paulo was the second goalie, while Raycroft used his first day back to break in new equipment.

"I'm going down to see (Toronto goalie coach Steve McKichan) for a week," Raycroft said. "I'm excited. It's a new year, I think we'll need the two goalies and we have a few other new players on the team."


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