Let the goalie war begin

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

Seven television cameras greeted Vesa Toskala as he emerged to meet the press during a break from Maple Leafs medicals yesterday.

That was exactly seven more than he was accustomed to seeing during the opening day of training camp in San Jose.

"We never had this many out there," said the Finnish goaltender, who was acquired during the NHL entry draft in June. "We had none, actually.

"It's a little different but people at least have been warm."

Life as a Shark just can't compare to life in the fishbowl known as Toronto. It's a lesson Toskala is learning with each passing day.

TARGET PRACTICE

From the moment he steps onto the Ricoh Coliseum ice surface for the first on-ice workout of training camp today, Toskala will be one of the favourite targets of the omnipresent media spotlight.

By surrendering three high draft picks to land Toskala and Mark Bell, the Leafs paved the way for the Finnish goalie to earn the starter's job at camp.

Standing in his way, of course, will be incumbent Andrew Raycroft, who seems to have been written off by everybody but coach Paul Maurice.

As a result, the most often-asked question of Maurice over the next two weeks likely will be: "So, who's No. 1?"

"I just know this is a good chance for me," said Toskala, who went 26-10-1 with a 2.35 goals against average with the Sharks last season. "I think we will push each other."

Asked if he is the frontrunner, Toskala, shrugging his shoulders, replied: "It doesn't matter what I think. It's the coach's decision."

Let's be honest. Toskala can do all the spin-doctoring he wants but there is no doubt he plans to snap up the starter's role after playing second fiddle to Evgeni Nabokov out on the left coast.

Raycroft, meanwhile, arrived at camp wearing a baseball cap with a camouflage pattern on it, a sure sign that he is ready to do battle.

"I spent six training camps fighting for a job just to stay in the NHL, so at least I know I'm going to be here this time around," he said.

As for all the trade rumours swirling around him this summer, Raycroft insisted his desire to remain a Leaf has not been dampened by the addition of Toskala.

"I'd like to think I'll be a Leaf for the next few years," he said. "I don't want to go anywhere.

"Vesa makes the team better and makes me better. I mean it. Look, I didn't jump off a bridge or the CN Tower when we got him, did I?"


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