Brass nurtures budding Leafs

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

KITCHENER -- Almost the entire front office of the Maple Leafs is here in Kitchener, looking for something to get excited about.

Perhaps they should wait another month and try Oktoberfest.

For the second game in a row at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, the Maple Leafs lost a one-sided affair in the annual three-team NHL rookie tournament.

After dropping the opener 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, the Leafs rookies lost 7-5 to the Ottawa Senators last night -- with two of Toronto's goals coming on the power play late in the third period.

"These games are all about looking at players, not worrying about what the score is," Maple Leafs' general manager Cliff Fletcher said in summarizing last night's contest. "It's about getting a feel for what you have now and what you may in a year from now. The score of the game doesn't mean a thing, really.

"I didn't think we played that bad in spots, particularly early. They had four goals on their first five shots," he added.

The Leafs' starting goaltender, former University of New Brunswick star Michael Ouzas, was shaky early, although he was hung out to dry by the Toronto defence on at least three goals.

On the bright side, the Leafs' highly touted 2008 first-round pick (fifth overall), Luke Schenn, played a stronger game than he did on Saturday, picking up three assists while making a few decent rushes, some good clearing passes and displaying a strong defensive game, though he took a holding penalty in the third period when an Ottawa player outskated him behind the net.

As well, Christopher DiDomenico of Woodbridge, the club's fifth choice (164th overall) from 2007, continued his strong offensive play with a goal and assist, and now has three points in two games for the Leafs' rookies.

Kyle Rogers also had a goal and assist. Forward Eric Wellwood, the brother of former Leafs centre Kyle Wellwood, also stood out. Wellwood was expected to get an invitation to the main Leafs training camp next weekend, but that could be in jeopardy after he suffered a suspected charley horse injury last night.

The Leafs rookie team also lost forward Jadran Beljo, a amateur signee who was hoping to latch on with the Marlies this season, to a suspected separated shoulder in last night's chippy contest. Darryl Boyce, who played for the Marlies last season, also played a strong game.

"There were a couple of players who were intriguing, too," Fletcher said.

Still, no one yet from the Toronto rookie roster has done anything to merit any mass excitement on the part of the Leafs brass.

"But we're not going to get down on these kids," said Dallas Eakins, the head coach at this tournament, and the Maple Leafs director of player development.

"They need to be encouraged and pointed in the right direction, and that's what we're going to do. We told them, here are the basics things we want to do -- just go and play. You're going to be judged on your hockey sense, your commitment to your work ethic.

"Right now I'm just trying to keep them loose and be as positive as we can."

Eakins said some of the Leafs prospects may be trying to do too much to impress Fletcher and his staff.

"But it's hard for them not to do too much because some of them are unsigned, some of them want to leave a great impression going back to their junior teams and some kids want to make the Marlies or the Leafs," he said. "And it's such a fine line. They need to do (a lot) and stand out, but at the same point they can't go way over the line because it's impossible to do that in a team sport. That's the challenge -- have them go hard and show their skill level but at the same time play a team game."


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