Forget waiting for the end of the all-star break. If defenceman Mike Van Ryn gets the green light from the doctors today, Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson wants him in a game this week -- either against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight or the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
With one condition.
Wilson is adamant that Van Ryn -- who has missed 27 games as a result of two concussions this season -- returns with a better helmet, a proper mouth guard and chin strap, and a face shield.
In fact, Wilson said yesterday that he would like to see every player on his team wear a face shield, although that's not going to happen any time soon.
"I know that would grate on some people," he said, making a vague reference to his nemesis Don Cherry. "But injury prevention is the thing, first and foremost."
Wilson went on a mini-crusade yesterday about the benefits of face shields, and how it is ridiculous that many NHLers still resist the idea of wearing one. Wilson believes that once a player starts wearing a face shield, he eventually gets used to it.
"It's like being in a car crash and you're still stubborn that you're not going to wear a seat belt.
Once he gets used to this, he'll be fine," the coach said. "To say you shouldn't wear a shield is like saying 20 years ago you shouldn't wear a helmet either. Now you look back at the helmet issue and you say: 'Man, why wasn't anyone wearing a helmet?' Trust me, 10 years from now, or hopefully sooner, everybody will be saying the same thing about a shield."
Wilson added that, from a business point of view, it makes no sense for a player not to wear a shield -- that facial injuries and concussions cost the player, his team and his organization. Wilson admitted however, that there still is peer pressure not to wear a face shield.
"It's unfortunate, some guys do get influenced by others," he said. "But I laugh (at the other arguments) against wearing a shield. Everybody in our league now, wore shields as kids, or in college and junior hockey."
The Leafs will face a determined Carolina Hurricanes team this evening, a team that fought back from a 4-0 deficit to tie it against Toronto at home last Thursday, only to lose 6-4. In that game, Leafs winger Jason Blake recorded three goals and two assists. Wilson said yesterday that he expects Blake to come up big every game now.
"Jason absolutely has been -- I'm not stepping on the gang plank -- our best player for two months now," Wilson said. "It shows in his penalty killing, his attention to detail, being a part of the team, all the things I heard that were negative about him, I haven't seen at all the last 2-3 months."
Blake believes there are several reasons for his improved play, and his improved outlook on and off the ice -- playing along side fellow speed demon Dominic Moore, and the fact that he has only one worry this season, and that's playing hockey. Last year the Moorhead, Minn., native had to deal with a cancer diagnosis.
"Of course I'm having more fun. I mean, how would you feel if someone told you devastating news?" Blake said. "It's no fun. But I had a summer to deal with it. I don't think I really had a chance to deal with it last year because I was playing every night. I'm not using it as an excuse by any means, but, yeah, I'm having a lot more fun this year than last year."