Leafs' May in mentor days

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

It may be a quiet moment in the corner at the end of practice, when Brad May is teaching the finer points of pugilism to a rookie.

Or sitting in the dressing room reminding a weary teammate that he has the best job on earth.

Or joking around with another youngster, showing there doesn't have to be a generation gap with a long-serving veteran.

Almost every player on the current Leafs roster has a "May Day" moment from the less than three months the 37-year-old has been playing for his hometown team.

So as May heads for career game No. 995 tonight in Buffalo, where his NHL career began, his teammates are getting excited about celebrating an impending milestone.

"He just exudes the joy of the playing hockey," Lee Stempniak said after yesterday's practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "Sometimes when you are young, you don't appreciate it enough. You think of the grind and you don't think of the positive.

"Every day he reminds you how awesome it is, that it's the NHL. He talks to everybody and he brings us closer."

Typical of May, who was a first-round pick (14th overall) by the Sabres in 1990, he is enthused about his return down the QEW, even if the Leafs' playoff chances are mostly mathematical.

With Toronto still technically alive and the Sabres desperately clinging to the race for eighth in the East, there is more than enough motivation.

"It's a big game for both teams," said May who, if all goes well, will play his 1,000th game on April 7 in New Jersey. "I know people might think I'm full of it, but we're enjoying being part of it. We're trying to go into Buffalo and spank them."

It's that attitude that has rubbed off on May's teammates, one of the reasons general manager Brian Burke acquired him in January.

Burke knew some of May's experience and leadership would benefit a roster in transition. While the Leafs room wasn't miserable prior to the Jan. 7 deal that brought him here, it is more comfortable now.

"To be a part of a team, you have to know your role," May said. "There's a natural order of things and you just have to find your place in the food chain.

"I've just tried to fit in. I definitely feel comfortable here and happy I'm part of the group."

Health, age and diminishing ice time -- most nights May is in the six-minute range -- means he won't likely be around when the team becomes a contender. But those who will be figure to have benefitted from being around him.

"Everybody in the room respects him," centre John Mitchell said. "When he wants to pipe up and say something, everyone listens.

"When a younger guy like me can goof around with an older guy like Brad May, it just makes you feel more comfortable."

Then there is the finer art of fighting. Big rookie defenceman Phil Oreskovic, no slouch in that department, says May has taken him aside on occasion to offer some of the tips he has used in battling most of the league heavyweights in his career.

"There are some tricks of the trade he can teach me," Oreskovic said. "He's a real down-to-earth guy and he's been great for me.

"I'm excited for him (to reach 1,000) just as he always tells me he's excited to see a young guy come up (from the minors.) He says: 'Keep on doing on what you are doing and play with passion.'"


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