September 7, 2010
Burke takes chance on Liambas
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
MARKHAM, Ont. -- There will be some who accuse Brian Burke of going too far in his latest attempt to hammer home his model for team toughness.
Instead, the Maple Leafs general manager believes he is giving a young player a chance to reclaim a hockey life that had been taken away by an ugly but avoidable incident.
The Leafs have extended a tryout offer to former Erie Otter junior Michael Liambas, who missed most of the 2009-2010 OHL season after being suspended for a dangerous hit on Kitchener's Ben Fanelli.
"I'm not being critical of (OHL commissioner) Dave Branch, but I thought it was an awfully stiff penalty for what started out as a legal check," Burke said on Tuesday. "It was a legal body check that went horribly wrong.
"I don't mean to diminish the injury the other young man suffered, but that could have happened to a lot of players and unfortunately it happened to this kid."
A 16-year-old at the time of the injury, Fanelli's skull was fractured in the career-ending injury.
Liambas will report to the Leafs' rookie camp which begins Saturday in London and at best is likely to fight for a spot with the Marlies.
Burke said the team pondered acquiring Liambas while he was suspended by the OHL but thought better of it. The Woodbridge native instead went to Bloomington of the IHL where he received another five-game suspension for a questionable hit.
That said, Burke says his research has led him to believe that it's worth taking a shot on the 21-year-old.
"I know everyone who has ever played with him, raves about his character," Burke said. "(Otters GM) Sherry Bassin and (coach) Robbie Ftorek told me he's as good a kid as they've ever had.
"He's a very intelligent player, a natural leader and he's tough. We are going to see if he can stick with the Marlies."