|Dion Phaneuf practices during the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp on Saturday, September 18, 2010. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency)
The crew became a little ornery, but the captain couldn’t have been happier.
When Saturday’s first day of scrimmage ended with 6-foot-3 Jay Rosehill and 5-9 Mike Liambas throwing some punches, they had the Dion Phaneuf stamp of approval. This camp isn’t supposed to be about war on ice, but neither can a 29th place team be passive in game situations.
“There was a physical edge today,” Phaneuf said of the whole day’s work. “Guys weren’t trying to kill each other, but there was a high compete level. Anytime there’s a fight with two guys like that, it’s good to see. They’re bringing what they can bring, trying to make a mark, trying to get noticed.
“If you’ve played one game or 800 games, there are guys pushing you. It was a real good day and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Coach Ron Wilson detests showboat or staged fights, but in Liambas’ case, the rescue mission was just what he did at the rookie camp in London last week when one of the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects became too chippy.
“Rosie hit Carl Gunnarsson from behind and got a response from Liambas and we don’t discourage that,” Wilson said. “We tell the players we don’t want them to fight, to save it, but stuff happens in practice. No one got hurt and it showed that we’re pretty intense at practice. I don’t know if we had any fights at practice last year.
“For some guys they have to do it in the scrimmage because they won’t get into exhibitions.”
The bout happened a half day after all 64 Leafs sat down for a get-to-know-you dinner at their downtown hotel. General manager Brian Burke and Wilson laid out their expectations, too.
“We sat down and everybody introduced themselves, where they’re from and where they played, the players and everyone in the organization,” alternate captain Mike Komisarek said. “We were getting acclimated with each other and getting to know the new faces. But as much as we’re competing for jobs and everyone wants to stick with the Leafs this year, it’s family at the end of the day.”
As he did last season, Burke tried to impress upon the players in his speech that restoring pride in the franchise, which has no Stanley Cups going on 44 years and has missed the playoffs the past five seasons, can start with how they handle themselves in public.
“We all represent the same organisation, with a rich history, a lot of tradition and a lot of legendary players,” Komisarek said.
“We want to make the young guys realize that you’re recognized where you go places and that you are representing that crest, so handle yourself in a professional manner.
“But after that, no complaints, no excuses, get out there and get the job done. We’ll be a tough team to play against and we will try and make the playoffs.”
There are two more days of practice and then a set of five exhibition games in as many nights. Though the real meat of camp will come next week when the roster will be down to less cumbersome practice numbers, opening night on Oct. 7 will be on everyone’s mind.