TORONTO - Keith Aulie spent the past few years admiring the big defencemen in the NHL, such as Boston’s Zdeno Chara, Montreal’s Hal Gill and most recently Buffalo’s Calder Trophy-winning Tyler Myers.
The next week will give the rookie Leaf a chance to see them all up close, when the Leafs collide with all three clubs. The 6-foot-6 Aulie is smaller than the trio, but aspires to have the same impact.
“Every time I go out there, I want to make it hard for the other players to play against me,” Aulie said Friday at the MasterCard Centre, after a triumphant recall to the NHL on Thursday night. “I want to be physical, get in their face, but make smart passes out of my end. I definitely look at those guys and watch what they do, how they move, the different positioning, all the little tricks. That’s my dream — to be where those guys are.”
When Aulie was brought from the Marlies for the New Jersey game, it wasn’t for a brief call-up as when Dion Phaneuf was hurt earlier in the year. The Leafs had traded Francois Beauchemin and needed another minute-munching defenceman to take his place. They created the roster spot for the 22-year-old Regina native by putting centre John Mitchell on waivers.
“That was humbling,” said Aulie, who played 22 minutes with Phaneuf. Both were in the same trade a year ago with Calgary, a deal that general manager Brian Burke has said he never would have made without Aulie’s inclusion.
Practice makes perfect
New winger Joffrey Lupul promised to give a better account of himself on Saturday against the Canadiens after getting rushed into Toronto’s lineup on Thursday against New Jersey with no practice with his new club. Lupul fanned on a great pass from Clarke MacArthur that might have given Toronto a regulation win before eventually falling in overtime.
“I didn’t feel quite as good as I would have liked to and I got through on emotion and excitement,” he said. “Now, to have a practice and a game under my belt, I’ll definitely be ready to go with a comfort level. It was nice to be out there today (a full practice with MacArthur and centre Tyler Bozak).”
The Leafs couldn’t wait to get to Montreal, figuring the significant Toronto faction in the crowd will give them a lift against a team 14 points ahead in the standings. With it being a Saturday game, chances are that more Leaf fans than usual will be there, with a full day to get, ahem, motivated.
“Seems like it’s a 50-50 crowd with fans going at each other,” said veteran visitor Tomas Kaberle. “It’s a nice building and it gets going for both teams.”
Then there’s the age-old mystery, where do Leaf fans get all those tickets?
“It’s shocking that they have so many,” said goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who usually has to scrounge for extras so his family and friends in town can attend. “Good for the fans, they must pay a lot of money on line or something.”
Left winger Fredrik Sjostrom will likely replace Colby Armstrong in the lineup on Saturday, perhaps with Kris Versteeg changing to the right side … Forward Luca Caputi hopes to rejoin the Marlies for a playoff push next month. He tried to play through an abdominal injury and wound up needing sports hernia surgery ... The Leafs have begun selling Canadian military-themed team wear at the ACC. A 25% share of profits will go to the Military Families Fund.