Van Ryn given green light

Defenceman Mike Van Ryn grimaces at Leafs practice on Monday. (Sun Media/Stan Behal)

Defenceman Mike Van Ryn grimaces at Leafs practice on Monday. (Sun Media/Stan Behal)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

There was excellent news on the injury front for the Maple Leafs yesterday.

Veteran defenceman Mike Van Ryn declared himself fit to play and, this time, the doctors are in agreement.

Van Ryn will dress tonight for the first time since Dec.18 when the 17-22-8 Leafs travel to Minnesota to face the 23-20-3 Wild.

"It feels great, especially considering last time when I thought I was playing (but) the testing didn't go so well," Van Ryn said yesterday, following a team practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "I'm excited about it. It's been a while and hopefully we can get a few wins here."

Van Ryn, 29, suffered two concussions this season, the first when he was face-planted into the boards by Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos on Nov. 8, resulting in a 13 game absence.

Van Ryn returned for three games but then suffered a second concussion on Dec.18 when he was hit by the Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic and has missed the past 16 games.

He was hoping to return last week but failed his baseline test and was not allowed to play.

"When you think your ready to go and you've been waiting a while to get back in and they tell you you're not, it's tough," Van Ryn said. "But that's all in the past."

The London native underwent a second baseline test Sunday and, this time, passed. Baseline tests, which consist of word memory and reaction-time examinations, are administered to athletes before the season begins and then a post-injury test is conducted on an athlete who suffered a concussion to compare with the first test to see if there is a deviation.

In any event, the Leafs could really use Van Ryn's presence on the blue line, both from a defensive and offensive standpoint.

The Leafs have not won a game since beating the Carolina Hurricanes 6-4 on Jan 15.

Interestingly, the Leafs have called up rookie goaltender Justin Pogge from the AHL Marlies and will start the Fort McMurray, Alta., native against the Wild tonight. He'll likely get shipped right back to the Marlies.

Both head coach Ron Wilson and GM Brian Burke have said that Pogge, who long has been called the Leafs goaltender of the future, will get a chance this season to see what he can do at the NHL level.

"I said we'd get him into a lot of games over the course of the season. Maybe not a lot, but enough to know if he's an NHL goalie or not," Wilson said. "He's a young goalie, he still needs to develop, he needs to play. And because he's right in our own backyard (with the Marlies), we can get him some games and some experience in the NHL as well."

The Leafs regular goaltender, Vesa Toskala, had no problem with Pogge being called up and given some playing time.

"In many ways, it makes sense to give him some games and give him a chance to play in this league. I totally understand," said Toskala, who has struggled this season, posting a goals-against average of 3.29 and a save percentage of .885, both down from his career marks of 2.49 GAA and .910 save percentage.

"It is easier to play every second night once you find a rhythm. But we have lots of back-to-backs this year and I understand what the team's doing," Toskala said, adding that Wilson has explained to him what the team's plan is for giving Pogge some NHL experience. "It's nice to be on the same page. (Wilson's) been pretty honest with me."

Now that the all-star break is over, it's expected that Burke will start engineering some trades for his rebuilding club.

The Leafs sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of a playoff spot.


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