Something electric about Leafs training camp

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:05 PM ET

The Maple Leafs are news throughout the year, for better or worse, but some of the most memorable stories revolve around the opening of training camp.

Just like going back to school, there's something electric about the first day with new players meeting each other and new teachers, all tossed in the same blender. Here's some strange-but-true Day 1 highlights.

HAVING A FIT

Coach John Brophy was a fanatic for conditioning in the late 1980s and was frustrated when the raw Al Iafrate kept showing up over-weight. Brophy grabbed the big defenceman and ordered him to run up all the escalators at Maple Leaf Gardens -- backwards.

At least Brophy did that behind closed doors. Pat Burns laid down the law on his first day of the '1992 camp, telling the media that goalie Grant Fuhr was too fat, a rebuke the sensitive Fuhr never heard in Edmonton.

ICE AGE: The day before 60 something Leafs were to open training camp in Newmarket, business manager Bob Stellick got a call that near 90-degree temperatures were rapidly melting the ice. Giant humidifiers were rushed in at a cost of about $10,000 each to save the day -- "or we'd have had one hell of a ball hockey team," Stellick said.

ORIGINAL THOUGHT

In case his Stanley Cup champion Leafs took the expansion teams too lightly, GM Punch Imlach opened 1967-68 vowing a $100 fine for every game his Original Six club lost to the six newcomers.

MONSTER MASHED

Jonas Gustavsson will never forget his first day at camp last year. The Swedish netminder grew dizzy pedalling away on a V02 test and wound up leaving the MasterCard Centre in an ambulance, later diagnosed with a heart-related condition.

HEADS UP

Resident rogue John Kordic and up-and-comer Tie Domi put on quite a show at their first camp, engaging in a contest of who had the bigger noggin. "Most people look for leg room in a car, you look for head room," Kordic teased.

GIVE 'EM HAL

Irascible owner Harold Ballard couldn't stand missing significant events at the Gardens, but one September the Leafs went ahead and signed Wendel Clark to a new contract with Pal Hal out of town. So as not to offend the boss, the signing was re-staged upon his return when camp opened. Clark played along to maintain peace.

Ballard also startled the staff after spotting a player flying around the ice on Day 1 with dazzling moves and leaving others far in his wake. The owner expressed hope the kid would make the team, not realizing it was new assistant coach Mike Kitchen.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS

"I'm not handing Gary Roberts my job" -- first-line winger Jonas Hoglund at the start of 2000 training camp.

THE WORLD INTRUDES

The day began with medicals and turned to tears. It was Sept. 11, 2001 and the excitement of heading off to St. John's, Nfld., for camp was muted as the players gathered around dressing room TVs to watch the aftermath of the twin towers' collapse. When the Leafs did get to St. John's, the arena was still a temporary shelter for hundreds of displaced airline passengers.

Two years later, the Leafs had just arrived in Stockholm for camp when Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh was stabbed to death in a department store, plunging the country into mourning.


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