The fastest growing sector of Leafs Nation could be Luca Caputi’s torso.
Though his biceps look more sculptured up top, much of the 15 pounds the winger packed on this summer came to rest below decks, giving him core strength to get to pucks first and battle bigger National Hockey League defencemen who used to shove him around. That led to a goal and assist Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators and a return invite to the lineup on Thursday in London against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The only complaints are coming from his tired tailor and a Guess-Your-Weight carny at Canada’s Wonderland, who had to give up a big stuffed bear to Caputi’s girlfriend when he misjudged the Leaf’s load by at least 20 pounds.
“When he said that, she thought I should start eating more,” Caputi said jokingly on Thursday morning at the MasterCard Centre. “You lift weights, but you do it more with your legs.
“I had to go to my tailor and have him let out every single one of my suits in the ass. It cost $200 because my friggin’ rear end got bigger. Maybe I’m going to toss them (the Leafs) the invoice.”
General manager Brian Burke would gladly pay the expense for Caputi and a lot of other Leafs who bought into team strength coach Anthony Belza’s summer program and came out looking like Lou Ferrigno. If the Leafs couldn’t get by without enough skill and talent, Burke decreed they would get a lot stronger in areas such as protecting the puck. Belza designed personal nutrition and weight-lifting plans for each Leaf..
Several players showed up in August with improved physiques. Christian Hanson, Luke Schenn and smaller-framed players such as Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri all looked noticeably different.
“Belza deserves a great deal of credit,” Burke said. “Our guys used the off-season well under his tutelage. A significant number of players boosted their lean muscle mass and their VO2 max (in testing).”
Assistant coach Rob Zettler saw right away that Luke Schenn was ready to roll.
“Luke’s fitness level went up right across the board; strength, endurance and agility,” Zettler said of the third-year defenceman. “That was a huge step for him. He looked like he had jump in his legs and was looking to hurt guys physically. Best of all, he was snapping pucks at people.”
Caputi, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alexei Ponikarovsky at the March trade deadline, had six points in 19 games as a Leaf, however, he seemed lost in the shuffle of incoming wingers during the summer and knew he needed to rise above the growing crowd of third and fourth liners.
“I took everything Brian and Ron Wilson told me to heart, that I was right there, my foot’s in the door (for a regular spot), if I really work hard in the off-season. Belza did a lot for me.”
Caputi ended his junior career with 51 goals and 111 points for the Niagara IceDogs, but pro hockey was a different animal. He was not a well-known player on the offensively blessed Penguins, but his hometown Leafs are truly a team in need.
“I’m trying to get off on the right foot and a goal (Wednesday) helps,” Caputi said. “It’s no secret that I score a good portion of my goals, about 80%, from the hash marks in. You get the odd shot from the outside, but for me, it’s getting the puck in, getting it deep on forechecks and getting to the net.
“Even our second goal (Wednesday) night with me getting the puck to (Mikhail) Grabovski, taking the puck to the net. Last year, that (Ottawa) guy’s probably going to catch me. I definitely felt better Wednesday night, but it’s just one game.”
That Caputi also scored a power-play goal was a bonus as Toronto’s troubles in that area can often be traced to zero traffic in front of the opposition’s net.
“So many times last year with the puck, I’d end up on all fours, knocked off of it,” Caputi said. “(Now) I could play my style and not get pushed off. I believe in myself.”