TORONTO - With a mid-season injury bug plaguing the Leafs, there was a pleasant surprise when fourth-line centre John Mitchell joined them at practice on Wednesday at the MasterCard Centre.
Mitchell suffered MCL damage to his left knee in a collision with Dion Phaneuf at practice Jan. 2 and was supposed to be out for four to six weeks.
“I got back out on the ice Monday and skated for 20 minutes and (Tuesday) a little longer,” Mitchell said. “(Wednesday), I went out for the first few drills and was going to come off, but I felt good and wanted to stay out with the boys. It hasn’t been four full weeks yet, but it’s all good.”
Mitchell will continue skating while the rest of the Leafs are on the NHL all-star break, but might even be a step ahead of them on Monday when they resume practice. He hopes to get clearance for some contact at that point.
“It was just one of those things,” he said of crashing into the captain. “I just tried to go wide, Dion tried to step up and I tried to go around him. My leg was just straight and he hit right on the knee and that buckles it in.”
KESSEL SEEING STARS
There was a quick turnaround for right winger Phil Kessel after Wednesday’s practice. He’ll be going back to Raleigh, N.C., where the Leafs played Monday, as the club’s lone representative in the all-star game.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Kessel insisted, despite having played in every game this season. “I’m okay, but I think everyone can use a couple of days off. It should be great at the game. It’s my first one.
“It should be enjoyable, playing with the best guys in the league.”
Some might wonder why the 26th-place Leafs bothered with practice after their flight from Tampa got in at 1:30 a.m. and there are no games until next Tuesday.
Many of the players would have been heading to destinations in the south anyway, but the Leafs weren’t going to pay for an empty charter to come back to Toronto. As was the case at Christmas when there was a five-day break, the Leafs put in a day’s work to show they still mean business. Assistant coach Keith Acton worked on faceoffs and skating coach Graeme Townshend was mentoring players such as Luke Schenn.
ON THE ROAD WITH REIMER
Goalie James Reimer will never forget his travel adventures in January that have taken him to almost every corner of North America in 24 days.
The Leafs went from Toronto to Ottawa New Year’s Eve, back home, to Atlanta, across to California, to Phoenix and then an all-day flight back to Toronto. Reimer, who had played five road games on the trip, had just put his feet up when coach Ron Wilson called and told him he had to get to Abbotsford, B.C., and join the short-handed Toronto Marlies
“They weren’t going to make me fly out again, but I went the next morning,” Reimer said. “I didn’t get to sleep that night until 2 a.m, because I was still on 11 p.m. West Coast time. I had to get up at 6 (EST) and fly five hours to Vancouver. But I battled through it.”
He came home in time to play for the Marlies and then join the Leafs for his second trip to the Southeast Division.