Ready for crease battle

New Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala was in Strathroy yesterday working out at the goaltending...

New Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala was in Strathroy yesterday working out at the goaltending school of Steve McKichan. (Sun Media/Derek Ruttan)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

STRATHROY -- New Maple Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala came to this quaint southwestern Ontario town this week expecting to be peppered with rubber, not questions about Mark Bell.

But given the legal woes and subsequent indefinite suspension incurred by Bell of late, there was no avoiding the topic yesterday as Toskala left the ice after his first workout at the goaltending school of Steve McKichan.

"He is one of the nicest guys I've ever played with," said Toskala, praising his former San Jose Shark teammate. "Everyone liked him. He didn't cause any problems especially in the locker room."

Toskala and Bell were acquired from the Sharks for first-, second- and fourth-round picks at the June entry draft in Columbus. The two men renewed acquaintances several weeks later when Toskala came over from his native Finland for a brief visit to familiarize himself with his new hockey home.

Various NHL executives claim the Leafs won the Toskala sweepstakes over teams like the Phoenix Coyotes and Boston Bruins because the Sharks insisted Bell be part of the deal. The Leafs will not confirm those reports, but there can be no denying that Toskala was the player they had primarily targeted, not Bell.

Asked about the heavy price the Leafs paid in order to obtain him, Toskala shrugged his shoulders.

"(Toronto) got two players in the deal, so that's hard to say," the veteran goalie replied, easily deflecting away the query as if it was a soft wrister from the point.

Having just arrived back in Canada last week, Toskala emerged for his on-ice workout yesterday decked out in his new blue, black and white mask, one that features the image of a screaming demonic skeleton. He has donned that same logo ever since he laid eyes on it in a tattoo magazine years ago.

Toskaka's teammates will get a close look at his headgear when training camp opens in eight days at Ricoh Coliseum. Once there, he'll be vying for the starter's spot with Andrew Raycroft, a job Toskala is not taking for granted even though some feel it is his already.

"I don't try to think about that," he said. "I can just do my best. Everything else is out of my control.

"I feel I'm one step closer to being (a No. 1 goalie). I just have to keep doing what I've been doing."

Even if that means a potential rift with Raycroft?

"I don't foresee there being any problems," Toskala, 30, replied. "We've met before and, from what I'm told, he's a great guy."

Toskala is accustomed to rubbing elbows with well-known Finnish athletes. He grew up with former NHL superpest Ville Nieminen, keeps in contact with ex-Leafs Aki Berg and Jyrke Lumme, and recently attended the Hungarian Grand Prix to watch his buddy, Formula One driver Kimmi Raikkonen, compete.

Yet even such notoriety can not compare to the spotlight of playing in hockey-crazed Toronto.

"I look forward to it. It's the top hockey city in the world. But if I have a bad game in San Jose or Toronto, it's still the same -- I won't feel good about myself."

One final quirky note about Toskala: He's a Toronto goalie using a stick with the word "Montreal" on it.

Is that allowed?


Videos

Photos