Backup job prevented Cujo from retiring

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Curtis Joseph wishes he had never left.

Having bolted from the Maple Leafs in favour of the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings exactly six years ago today, the veteran goaltender now returns to the blue-and-white admitting that maybe, just maybe, he made a mistake.

"If I had to do it all over again, I probably would not do it," Joseph said yesterday of his ill-fated jump to the Red Wings back on July 2, 2002.

"I didn't play well my first year in Detroit. Maybe my heart was still in Toronto."

From 1998-2002, Joseph was one of the most popular athletes in Toronto, compiling a regular-season record of 133-88-27 as a Leaf. He also appeared in 60 playoff games for Toronto, leading the team to Eastern Conference final appearances against the Buffalo Sabres in 1999 and the Carolina Hurricanes in 2002.

LEFT TOWN

But a reported spat with coach Pat Quinn during the 2002 Olympics -- Joseph was relegated to the bench after an opening-game loss to Sweden in favour of Martin Brodeur -- created an uncomfortable situation in Toronto, one that received plenty of publicity during the ensuing months.

When free agency opened later that year, Joseph turned down a three-year, $26.5-million US deal with the Leafs to take $24 million from the Wings, a decision that left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Leafs fans. The move, in the end, would not pay dividends as Joseph never was able to land that elusive Stanley Cup he so coveted.

After brief stints in Phoenix and Calgary, Joseph, 41, inked a one-year deal worth $700,000 with Toronto yesterday. Given the fact he, his wife and their four children, ages seven to 16, live just north of Toronto in King City, Joseph admits he likely would have retired had he not landed with the Leafs.

"I'm ecstatic, and so is my family," Joseph said during a phone interview. "Certainly I would not have played anywhere else."

Joseph accepts the reality that he has been brought in to back up incumbent Vesa Toskala who, according to general manager Cliff Fletcher, is expected to suit up for 60-plus games this season.

"I don't know much about Vesa," Joseph said. "I did talk to (Calgary Flames goalie) Miikka Kiprusoff about him.

"Miikka and Vesa are good friends and Miikka said Vesa is a great guy.

"Look, I'm comfortable in the backup role. Physically I feel great. Besides, you don't want your No. 1 goalie being 41-years-old."

With this likely being Joseph's final NHL season, Fletcher said there may be a future in the organization for Cujo as a goaltending coach.

"It might be a possibility down the road," Joseph said. "I love hockey.

"It's what I've done for so long."

Joseph appeared in nine games for the Flames last season, going 3-2-0 with a 2.55 goals against average. He played in two playoff games, registering one win and a 0.76 GAA.


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