Time for Bell to mature

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

This kind of trouble is really nothing new to Mark Bell.

It was drunk driving in San Jose. It was allegations he beat up a taxi driver in Ottawa. In Chicago, the general manager just decided he wasn't worth the difficulty anymore.

Everyone will tell you he's a good guy. Isn't that the hockey mantra? His friends will tell you he's hilarious, fun-loving, enjoys life.

Wasn't so hilarious to the cabbie who suffered a gash to the forehead, five stitches, a split lip, two black eyes and bruised ribs in 1999.

Bell was a kid back then, a junior hockey player who got the local hockey hero treatment in Ottawa.

He wasn't a kid last September when the rental car he was driving rammed into a pickup truck at a stop sign at 1 a.m., causing serious damage to the driver.

He wasn't a kid last September when his blood alcohol was tested at almost twice the legal limit. He wasn't a kid when he was given the chance of a lifetime -- come to San Jose and play alongside NHL MVP Joe Thorton and goal scoring champion Jonathan Cheechoo -- and pissed it away, beginning the season on the best line in hockey and ended it by being a healthy scratch for playoff games.

The truth on the Maple Leafs acquisition of Mark Bell: He was forced upon them.

They wanted Vesa Toskala, the goalie. In order to make the deal, they had to take Bell. You couldn't get one without the other.

John Ferguson, as has been his custom, settled for someone else's refuse.

That's how he got Andrew Raycroft when Boston was ready to throw him out (although in fairness, Raycroft had no legal issues).

That's how they ended up with Bell. They took on a mess that wasn't theirs: Now they have to clean it up.

According to Ferguson, through a released statement, the Leafs "have been aware of the charges against Mark Bell" and have been "following the legal proceeedings closely.

"Mark has acknowledged the error in judgment that he made ... Mark has accepted responsibility for his actions, and the Leafs organization will support Mark through this challenging time."

A quick Mark Bell story: When he got into trouble while playing junior for the Ottawa 67s, his sage, old, coach, Brian Kilrea, called him for a private meeting. Kilrea told him in no uncertain terms that he understood that kids sometimes act like kids, and what matters now isn't what happened but how well you learn from your mistakes.

Bell went from Ottawa to Chicago, where he ran out of time with the Blackhawks. Funny thing about those Blackhawk teams.

They didn't win much but had three young players the hockey world seemed to like. Tyler Arnason was one. Kyle Calder was two. Bell was three.

Arnason moved on to Ottawa and bombed out. Calder went on to Philadelphia and bombed out. Bell was a disaster in San Jose.

In winning situations, each of the Chicago young guns was exposed as losing hockey players. Bell ended up watching the Sharks play in the playoffs: Now he comes to Toronto where everyone will be watching his every move.

"I am deeply sorry for the hurt that I have caused to others," said Bell in a statement released and likely crafted by the Maple Leafs yesterday. "...I accept my punishment as handed down by the court. I look forward to fulfilling my obligations and in moving on with my life in a positive manner.

"I'm glad to be returning home to Canada and I look forward to playing in Toronto this season."

Coming to Toronto will either make Bell's career or destroy it: There will no middle ground.

Some players feed off the attention that being a Leaf provides them with. Some are gobbled up in the process.

Often it's difficult to define who will fit in which group. Bell has played in Chicago and San Jose, two markets where hockey players can disappear.

MAKE OR BREAK

And for a big, scrappy player like Bell, whose passion for the game has come under question, this market will definitely be a make or break scenario for him.

Even those who know him best, while cheering for him, wonder what he's made of.

He didn't choose Toronto.

The Leafs chose him out of necessity and desperation.

John Ferguson has enough headaches to worry about, like staying employed, to have picked up another one at this time.

Empathy is hardly Fergie's game: But it's the game he must play now.

It's time for an irresponsible Mark Bell to grow up.

It's time Bell stops acting like he's beyond the law, stop taking his career for granted, because soon he may not have one.


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