Young Leafs showing they belong

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:55 AM ET

The Maple Leafs used something old and something new last night to wipe away the blues.

"You could see by the way guys were hanging their heads (after Tuesday's 7-1 loss) that come Thursday night the Islanders were going to have a tough time," Alex Steen said last night.

The thought came moments after the Leafs found redemption in an 8-1 rumble over the Islanders. Forget the score. What was most impressive was the manner in which the team won. They got contributions from Mats Sundin down to a kid who now has been a Maple Leaf for a day. Sundin scored to make him the team's career points and goal scoring leader.

The bonus is that all those people who have been wondering where the team's future is, might have got a clue last night.

Matt Stajan, who Maurice applauded for being the best forward on the ice had a four-point night. Steen scored on a breakaway, putting a textbook deke on goalie Wade Dubielewicz.

Meet Andy Wozniewski, rushing defenceman. He scored his first NHL goal after joining the rush. "I passed the puck (to Stajan inside the blue line) and the defence was playing him tight and he got it back to me. The whole middle was open and I just put in on net. The goalie got his glove on it but it lay there and I tapped it in."

And, then there was Simon Gamache, called up from the Marlies on a line with Stajan and Darcy Tucker. It gave the Islanders fits. At 13:22 he took a pass inside the blue line, skated near the left hashmark and caught the top of the net with a quick wrist shot. He also had an assist and drew a penalty with diligent forechecking.

"Awesome. The eighth goal didn't mean much for the team but for my confidence it's very big," said Gamache, 2001's top Canadian junior player and last year's Swiss League scoring star. When he said at training camp he would make the Leafs it sounded like big talk from a small guy. But the Montreal native backed it up with an outstanding preseason. And, what did it get him?

Another ticket to the minors with a promise the Leafs wouldn't forget him. Like he hadn't heard that one before.

For the past seven seasons, it has ever been thus. Since graduating from Val-d'Or with 74 goals and 184 points he has been a water bug dancing across the surface of the hockey landscape from Milwaukee through Nashville to Bern and the Greenville Grrrowl.

"It has been a long time getting here. Yes, I've had a taste of the NHL before but nothing to be proud of because I didn't make even one team. I learned from other experiences that I have to produce. I have to bring something to the table here or I'm just going to get sent down again," Gamache said earlier at the morning skate.

"I wanted to get into the game right away," he said last night after smacking an Islanders defenceman into the backboards on his first shift. It helped set the tone for the evening. He got a closeup from the edge of the faceoff circle as Tucker set up Ian White to put the Leafs up 2-0.

"It's a good feeling right now," he said. There have been times when he wondered if he'd ever put on an NHL uniform again. Atlanta Thrashers gave up on him after four games. He failed to with Nashville where he played 18 games. In the 2005 season he had three goals in 15 games with St. Louis. And, those were the good days. "One night the coach (of the AHL Chicago Wolves) told me, 'Simon, You're not playing tonight.' I called my agent and said I'm not staying here just to sit in the stands. So, I had to go to the ECHL."

In the hockey world, the ECHL is like purgatory -- the last pro gasp before players go into real estate. "That was hard to go back to the ECHL because I was the MVP of the Canadian League in junior. I was expecting to get a shot in the NHL and instead I couldn't even play in the minors."

But last night, none of that mattered.

For one night, the old and the new meshed for the Maple Leafs and became the perfect storm. "It's important we have the Stajans and Wozniewski. White," Sundin said. "They're guys we can win with and they send a message to the older guys that we have to step it up."


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