Finger making steady progress

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Injured Maple Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger has put his down time to good use, such as learning how to speak a second language.

"I (now) know a couple of swear words in Russian," Finger said yesterday.

The sturdy defencemen, who signed with the Leafs as a free agent this past summer, was kidding ... sort of.

An errant shot during a pre-season practice by another Leafs newcomer, Russian winger Nikolai Kulemin, resulted in Finger suffering a broken right foot and missing the first four games of the regular season -- including last night's tilt at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.

But there finally is good news on the horizon for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound defenceman.

For the first time since suffering the injury, Finger was able to skate in a practice situation with the club -- although it wasn't a real practice, but rather a pre-game skate.

Still, Finger finally sees some light at the end of the tunnel and said that he will be able to play as soon as his conditioning is up to snuff.

"There's still pain, that's for sure, but it's finally to the point where I can tolerate it," said Finger, who spent his first two seasons in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche. "Putting all my weight on the right foot, it's still not all there, but I think it will be soon."

Finger, 28, will not be ready for tonight's game in Pittsburgh either, but he does expect to practice on a regular basis starting Monday, and will be ready to play once head coach Ron Wilson deems his conditioning sufficient for a game.

Finger said it has been frustrating missing the first four games with his new team, but figures that it's better to suffer an injury early in the season, rather than late in the season or in the playoffs. The Houghton, Mich., native said he has suffered broken bones in his feet before, but this was the first time the pain was enough to force him out of games and practices. When he does return, Finger will be wearing foot guards over both skates, patched together by the Toronto equipment staff, made out of fibreglass and kevlar.

"It's really light," Finger said, taking off the piece of equipment to show the media. "And it's like bulletproof.

"I've had enough of having broken feet," he said.

Finger has taken the foot injury in stride. After all, he got his chance to play a regular shift with the Avalanche as a result of injuries suffered by defencemen Jordan Leopold and John-Michael Liles.


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