Andy looking dandy on Leafs defence

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

For the third consecutive season Andy Wozniewski seems to have come out of training camp with a job on the Maple Leafs blue line.

With Carlo Colaiacovo's surgically-repaired knee not healed enough for him to start the season, Wozniewski likely will slide into the top six along with Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Ian White, Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina.

Coach Paul Maurice said he would like to practise with eight defencemen in the coming days, meaning there are two spots up for grabs for Staffan Kronwall, Anton Stralman, Bryan Muir and Jay Harrison.

"I don't think I've had a bad camp but I know I have more to show," Kronwall said. "It'll be a big disappointment if I don't make the team. I hope I showed them enough that I can play."

Stralman, dubbed the next Nicklas Lidstrom in his native Sweden, admitted spending portions of last night's 4-0 loss to the Red Wings in Detroit watching Lidstrom.

"On the bench, it was hard to take your eyes off of him," Stralman said.

Stralman admits he still is contemplating going to Sweden if he doesn't make the Leafs despite the fact there is no out clause in his contract.

"If they were to stay I would be the first one called up from the Marlies, well, we'll see," Stralman said.

Maurice said a round of cuts likely will come today.

DOWNIE SENT DOWN

The Philadelphia Flyers sent suspended forward Steve Downie down to the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League yesterday.

Downie, 20, was suspended by the NHL for 20 games on Friday for his hit on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in an exhibition game Tuesday night. The 5-foot-10, 192-pound rookie received a match penalty, which carries an automatic indefinite suspension pending a league review.

The demotion makes Downie automatically ineligible to play for the Phantoms, although an AHL spokesman said Friday that the league could review the case.

Downie had an opportunity to make the Flyers' roster, and his NHL debut, after forwards Scottie Upshall, R.J. Umberger and Joffrey Lupul suffered injuries.

If Downie had started the season with the Flyers and served the full 20 games, he would have been eligible to return Nov. 23 against Washington. The next night, the Flyers face the Senators.

He will forfeit $63,101.60 in salary. Downie recorded a goal and 17 penalty minutes in four pre-season games for the Flyers.

WILD SIGNS SHEPPARD

Centre James Sheppard signed with the Minnesota Wild yesterday, meaning the 2006 first-round draft pick will be on the ice opening night instead of returning to his junior team in Nova Scotia.

The 19-year-old Sheppard had 33 goals and 63 assists in 56 games with Cape Breton of the Quebec league last season. He was the ninth overall pick in 2006 and has one assist in three pre-season games for the Wild this year.

The Wild also defencemen Shawn Belle and John Scott and forwards Benoit Pouliot and Petr Kalus to Houston of the AHL.

PREDATORS CUT TWO

Nashville Predators forwards Josh Langfeld and Matt Ellison were sent to the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL.

WINGS NO LONGER HIP

Not long ago, the Detroit Red Wings had the hottest ticket in town and flags with their winged-wheel logo were sticking out of car windows all over Michigan.

But the team's buzz is slowly fading.

It got so bad that five months ago, the Red Wings played host to games in the playoffs with rows and rows of available seats.

Hockeytown needs to get its groove back.

The organization aggressively has tried to market its once-popular product, dropping some ticket prices as low as $9 and plastering images and messages on billboards.

A week before the opener against the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks at Joe Louis Arena, a block of 15 seats was available -- at $44 apiece -- in a corner of the upper bowl.

"The No. 1 thing that has hurt us from a fan's standpoint is the Michigan economy," general manager Ken Holland said.

The state has been rocked by a sagging automobile industry, but it didn't stop a record three million-plus fans from flocking to Comerica Park to watch the Tigers play in 2007.

It also didn't deter spectators from filling Ford Field, The Palace of Auburn Hills, Michigan or Spartan stadiums to support the Lions, Pistons, Wolverines and Spartans.

Unlike the other teams in the sports-crazed state, the Red Wings have had to deal with obstacles they couldn't control, including the lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season and Steve Yzerman's retirement.


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