When the bosses are away, the inmates will play.
With general manager Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson in Vancouver with the U.S. Olympic team, laughter filled the MasterCard Centre on a snowy Friday as the Maple Leafs opted for a spirited game of 3-on-3 rather than slog through another gruelling practice.
With the squad split into two teams, players had a friendly financial wager on who might win. Sure enough, those fortunate members of Team Exelby received a modest monetary windfall and were even presented a makeshift trophy for winning the event.
"They could have given us a block of wood for a trophy and we wouldn't have cared," said defenceman Garnet Exelby, who said a key to victory was to shut down opposing forward Colton Orr.
"Colton's dangerous 3-on-3, especially on the smaller ice surface," Exelby said, tongue planted firmly in cheek, of Orr, who scored two first period goals.
The game was set up by assistant coaches Rob Zettler and Tim Hunter, who wanted to break up the monotony of post-Olympic break practices. The game originally was supposed to be held in Richmond Hill but those plans were scrapped due to inclement winter weather in the Toronto area.
"The boys were working hard, backchecking, skating ... you could see we had something on the line," forward John Mitchell said.
The Leafs will resume regular practice Saturday, at which time Team Sweden goalie Jonas Gustavsson is expected to rejoin the team from the Olympics. Sunday's practice will be held in front of an expected sold-out crowd at Oshawa's GM Centre.
The Leafs resume their NHL schedule against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre.