A little fight left in Leafs

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

It was Halloween yesterday, and Maple Leafs forward Ryan Hollweg certainly looked the part.

The only problem was, he wasn't dressed up.

Hollweg looked scary, sporting a nasty left black eye, with stitches on the side for good measure, the result of a bout against New Jersey Devils giant Michael Rupp on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center.

"Just in time for Halloween," Hollweg said. "Nobody has to be too scared when they look at me."

In the same game, which Toronto eventually won 6-5 in a shootout, Leafs forward Jamal Mayers fought for the third time in the regular season, this time against rugged winger David Clarkson. Unlike the Hollweg-Rupp fight, that bout was close. But still, Wednesday's game demonstrated, yet again, that the Leafs lack a pure fighter, a heavyweight, if you will. The gutsy Hollweg, who will drop his gloves against anybody despite being only 5-foot-11, hasn't really won a fight in the six or so he has had as a Leaf.

"Any guy is just another guy to me," Hollweg said, in advance of tonight's game against the New York Rangers at the Air Canada Centre. "It doesn't matter the size. I don't really think of that."

But the question is, even in the new NHL, where skill and speed rule, will a lack of toughness come back to haunt the Leafs? After falling behind, the Devils certainly attempted to change the flow of the game and intimidate the Leafs by sending Clarkson out to fight, and then Rupp.

Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher said this week that he does have concerns, but will not sign or trade for a fighter who can't play, as well.

For his part, head coach Ron Wilson said yesterday that, despite his busiest fighter, Hollweg, not being a legitimate heavyweight, he isn't going to press the panic button, and is confident that his fast, young team will not be intimidated.

"I think we actually got suckered into a couple of fights that we really didn't need to participate in. They were looking to change the momentum," he said. "But we're not going to retaliate to satisfy anybody else's need for blood."

Wilson said that even if the other team's enforcer is out looking to dance, that shouldn't intimidate anyone on his team, other than, perhaps, Hollweg, who never is intimidated anyway.

"If a guy wants to come out and thump his chest, let him. It's irrelevant, because it doesn't affect the other guys. If they start running your skill people, that's an entirely different ball game," Wilson said. "(But) in he modern NHL, the tough guys don't bother the skill guys. So why should the skill guys be worried about that? I think our players understand that. The fight at the beginning of the game between two tough guys, there's no impact on the game whatsoever. To me, it's a side show."

TEAM-TOUGH

Wilson said he is a proponent of "team toughness" wherein players don't have to fight or retaliate, but keep playing hard and disciplined when the opponent is looking to goon it up, and let the other team take penalties. The Leafs are fifth in the NHL for fewest penalty minutes per game, averaging just 12.8 minutes.

"We're staying out of the box. That's one of the big changes in our team," he said. "In our last five games, we've only averaged three short-handed situations in a game."

Wilson praised Hollweg -- who was suspended three games for hitting St. Louis defenceman Alex Pietrangelo from behind -- for playing hard, but in control, in his past four games. The winger was key in Mayers' tying goal on Wednesday, causing chaos in front of the net.

"That's good hockey to me," Wilson said. "People have told me what's been written about him, that he's a useless hockey player. He's useless when he takes dumb penalties, like hitting people from behind. And you're useless when you're suspended, literally. He just needs a filter when he goes in there on the forecheck."


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