Leafs hit links for final laugh

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

MARKHAM -- The Maple Leafs took time yesterday for fun, frivolity, golf and sustenance. Or, as the few who will be cut after this week's trip might remember it: The Last Supper.

It was the team's annual tournament and luncheon, in aid of charity, at Angus Glen. Some people might suggest that when it comes to charity cases nobody has qualified better than the Maple Leafs of recent seasons. Not that we know any of those people but we've heard the talk radio.

Fortunately, this autumn there hasn't been a more syrupy gathering this side of a Hollywood awards show. The players are apple-cheeked and healthy, coach Paul Maurice has not yet had to play Scrooge with anyone's dreams and as long as nobody moves the Ottawa Senators out of the division there is at least one team they can bully.

So as dawn chased the mists over Angus Glen, a three-man quartet at the entrance began pounding a jazzy tune.

"Usually when I hear that at this time of the morning it means I haven't been home yet," one of the media contingent, waiting for the 7:45 a.m. press call, said with a snicker.

This, too, is part of the Maple Leafs' world. Even on a day off, there is no escaping cameras, notebooks or microphones. Even when nothing happens, there must be questions and there must be answers. It is a vicious circle in which media, players and team are caught because in this market even the slightest Maple Leafs minutiae is fodder for a public appetite that can never be appeased. So what did we learn?

We now know that this is not the favourite time of year for Wade Belak and his Beak-Busters Fraternity. "For most of those fellas, exhibitions are not a fun place to be," Maurice said, as his insurance policy stood nearby trading one-liners with reporters. "There are a lot of young guys out there that are trying to make a name for themselves coming looking for you."

Yesterday, the only guys wanting a piece of Belak were looking for anecdotes and autographs, not blood, and the only place he was going to be hurting was on his scorecard.

"Once you have kids your golf game goes down hill. I was good when I was about 16 and all I did was train and play golf all summer. Now, it's tough to find time," Belak said.

He has two daughters that now occupy much of his off-time. Maybe he could build his own course in Saskatchewan to practice on, someone suggested. "Yeah," said Belak, "we're calling it TPC @ Goat Ranch."

We now know Justin Pogge will play goal against Edmonton because Maurice -- proving contrary to medical science that coaches do so have a heart -- explained that "he's a western boy." The words barely had been uttered when the news flash rocketed across web sites and over TV screens causing a run on Leafs' jerseys in Pogge's home town of Ft. McMurray. This is Canada. It's what we do. Nobody knows why, except that there are only three sure things in life here: Death, taxes and hockey -- not necessarily in that order.

We now know this is more than a trip. For Alex Steen, the stop in Winnipeg, where his dad starred, will be a sentimental journey.

"Obviously I had a special childhood growing up in a dressing room with NHL players. I remember," Steen said." Bryan Marchment used to play goal for me in the dressing room so I could practise shooting at him."

BETTER THAN PRACTICE

We now know that yesterday's cart ride through Happy Valley, Maurice said, was "better than a practice." It seems this is the day at training camp that people get hurt.

"We've found Day 4 is a swing day. People that are sore, it's the day their groins can go south. At Day 4 we've found guys can either get better or get worse so we're going to play a little golf and protect our bodies a bit."

And we found out that some things don't change, whether it's on the ice or the golf course.

"I'm not sure who's the best golfer," Belak said. "Probably Mats. The rest of us are slugs."

Good thing everyone brought their sense of humour. By the time they got to the 19th hole they were going to need it. Mulligan stew, anyone?


Videos

Photos