New-look Leafs pull no punches

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

If sweater collars are really tightening around half the NHL during national anthems, then the Maple Leafs' well publicized re-armament is already a success.

But even the Leafs are laughing when hearing warnings they'll be sweeping through the NHL like the bloodthirsty Huns across Europe.

"As much fun as it sounds and would probably be to watch, we want to and need to win games," defenceman Garnet Exelby said.

"We don't want to be going around throwing elbows and running out of position."

The stories took root in the summer, with general manager Brian Burke vowing that the Leafs' skill players won't be pushed around, then acquiring Colton Orr, Exelby, Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and Jay Rosehill. Coach Ron Wilson echoed those sentiments, while elements in the Toronto media and excitable fans took care of the rest. Soon it was 'hide the women and children, the Leafs are coming to town'.

"It's not so much the fighting, it's the intimidation factor," Wilson said of the purpose of bulking up.

"I want guys on our fourth line (where Orr, Rosehill and Wayne Primeau currently reside) to finish their checks and whatever happens, happens.

"I'm not a proponent of staged fighting. If something happens after a good, hard hit or you hit a skill player on the other team...that's sending a message and having to answer the bell, which you do without reluctance.

"Everyone's getting confused that we're going to rumble our way through the league.

"But I want Komisarek on the ice and I want Beauchemin, who can fight as well as anyone, on the ice."

After the first exhibition game against Boston when five fights broke out, it did portent a long season, at least for the medical staff and stats' folk trying to keep track of major penalties.

But only one fight was recorded in the Leafs' final two games.

"Some guys wanted to get a point across and I think they did," Exelby said.

"It's going to change any given night. The important thing is that we want to dictate how physical it's going to be.

"If it's rough, we're making it that way and if it's quiet, maybe the other team is making us sleep a bit or whatever."

So, a Montreal writer inquired, there are actually no Ogie Oglethorpes in the Leafs' room?

"I heard he was in jail," joked Exelby of the frizzy-haired fictional goon from Slap Shot.

"I don't know, there might be a few inner-Oglethorpes here waiting to be unleashed. But right now, we just want to stick together as a team and crack everyone when we can in terms of finishing checks."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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