Farmhands digging in

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

A boy from the farm is showing that the Maple Leafs farm system may not be in such awful shape after all.

Forward Jeremy Williams, who grew up on a ranch/farm near Glenavon, Saskatchewan (population 104), about an hour east of Regina, has scored goals in each of the two games he has played since being called up from the Marlies last Monday.

Williams, 24, has three points in two games and is a plus-3. In all four seasons in which Williams has been recalled from the minors, he has scored in his first NHL game of the season.

Defenceman Jaime Sifers, called up last week as well, has played well with injured regulars Luke Schenn and Jonas Frogren out.

In fact, coach Ron Wilson elected to play Sifers in place of healthy veteran Anton Stralman in Toronto's 2-1 win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday night. Sifers, 25, is a plus-1 after two games with the Leafs and has played a strong physical and defensive game.

All of this makes for some tough decisions for Wilson and general manager Brian Burke when the Toronto regulars begin to return from the injured list.

"Definitely that's a good (problem to have), but I don't get paid to make those final decisions. That's Burkie's job at the end of the day," Wilson said with a laugh. "But, yes, we have to head in the direction where we do give young people an opportunity to play, and an opportunity to succeed."

Frogren and forward Niklas Hagman are expected back this week, with rookie D-man Schenn and veteran forward Jamal Mayers not too long after that.

It's a safe bet that big winger Andre Deveaux will be sent down to the Marlies before Williams, after Hagman returns (barring more injuries).

As for Sifers, the former University of Vermont star also has proven he can play at the NHL level, though he'll probably get caught in the numbers game when Schenn and Frogren return. Still, Wilson and Burke have liked what they have seen from both Williams and Sifers.

IMPRESSED

"I've been impressed with both kids on recall right now," Burke said yesterday. "And I like how our coach shows confidence in call-ups. (Wilson) keeps throwing them out there. Lots of coaches won't do that."

Indeed, Wilson has played Williams on a line with centre Dominic Moore and Jason Blake, and there has been instant chemistry. Often, a call-up will get dumped on a fourth-line checking unit, but Wilson doesn't see the point doing that with a natural goal-scorer such as Williams.

"I'm trying to give Williams good ice time with a couple of guys who are competing really hard right now so he can look good -- not on the fourth line where you don't get to show your offence," Wilson said.

"You have to put people in positions to see exactly what they can do. That has just from my own career. You come up and you're an offensive guy and you get thrown on the fourth line and someone says three games later: 'Oh, you didn't produce any points.' Well, it's hard to produce points if you play five minutes a night."

It's obvious that Williams' bests skills are his shot, his quick release, and ability to get into the open around the net. The former Swift Current Bronco, who scored 52 goals in 68 games in the WHL during the 2003-04 season, said he fine-tuned his shot by spending countless hours on a sheet of ice at the farm.

"Ever since junior I've been known as a shooter (and) I think it's just from living on a farm in Saskatchewan. My dad (Kevin) always made us ice, so I was out there in minus-40 degree weather with my brother (Tristan) shooting the puck around. It might be from that," he said.

Williams is hoping that his stint with the Leafs this season will be more permanent than temporary and he realizes that he'll need to prove to Wilson that he has other components to his game.

"Ron is big on me playing well defensively and I'm trying to show I can do that," he said. "I never really doubted the skill part of my game. Not to be cocky, but I'm confident in that part of my game and I just need to build confidence from the defensive side."

The Leafs had a day off yesterday and resume practice today at Lakeshore Lions Arena in preparation for the Tuesday home game against the New Jersey Devils.


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