Boyce's goal: Back & Fourth

Darryl Boyce (left) battles Ryan Hamilton and Kelsey Wilson for the puck in the corner while Matt...

Darryl Boyce (left) battles Ryan Hamilton and Kelsey Wilson for the puck in the corner while Matt Stanisz looks on during Sunday's scrimmage at the MasterCard Centre. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:26 PM ET

Darryl Boyce was finished studying business at the University of New Brunswick in May and headed home to Summerside, P.E.I., to begin serious training for the 2011-12 hockey season.

Once there, Boyce made a phone call to Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, who also lives in Canada’s smallest province during the summer.

“My gym is at my house, and he said he didn’t want to impose,” Phaneuf said on Sunday. “But he wondered if he could train with me. I said it wasn’t a problem and he was there every day early.

“He worked hard and he pushed himself, and he pushed me all summer. It was positive for both of us.”

As Leafs captain, Phaneuf’s job is concrete. As the fourth-line centre for the second half of last season, who needed to prove his worth initially with the Marlies in the American Hockey League, Boyce has no assurance of a job.

Barring injuries or a shock in camp, one of Boyce, former Colorado Avalanche Philippe Dupuis or Mike Zigomanis will be the Leafs’ fourth-line centre when the regular season starts on Oct. 6 at the Air Canada Centre versus the Montreal Canadiens. All three are signed to two-way contracts.

Though Boyce has something he did not have when he arrived at camp a year ago — a working relationship with coach Ron Wilson — he’s not thinking the job is his to lose.

After Boyce was recalled from the Marlies at the end of December, he did not go back to the minors. The 27-year-old had 13 points (five goals and eight assists) in 46 games with the Leafs, and was second on the team in plus-minus at +8.

Boyce’s overall attitude inspired those around him. When he suffered a severe laceration to his right nostril during a game in February — after hitting a photographer’s hole in the glass at the ACC — he did not miss a game. Scar tissue that remains has closed Boyce’s right nostril about halfway and he will need surgery after the season to remove the tissue.

“It’s nice having management and coaches familiar with me.” Boyce said. “Last year, I was another American League guy. But the competition for a job never really does stop. It’s never secure. The errors you make are magnified.

“The way I have approached it is, if you’re on the third or fourth line, if you’re getting scored on, those are going to be the goals that win games for the other team. When a fourth line scores, it brings the energy down.”

Boyce’s turning point in 2010-11 started when Marlies coach Dallas Eakins put him on a line with Jay Rosehill and Greg Scott. The three called themselves the Gold Line for the colour of sweater they wore in practice, but they were also effective. One day around Christmas, Boyce asked Eakins what he had to do make the jump. Eakins informed the forward that he had told Leafs management that he had earned the privilege of being the next player called up.

“One consistent thing that would be said about me is that you know what you are going to get,” Boyce said. “I’ll show you the odd thing offensively, but in the defensive zone you know exactly what you are going to get. Strong on faceoffs, positionally sound.

“This year, I want to step up the physical play and get the gloves off when I can, be a two-way player who does not turn away from the scrums. When people come knocking, you have to answer the door.”

With all the changes that general manager Brian Burke has made, Boyce has one small fact in his pocket. He’s the longest-serving current Leaf, in a sense, in that he’s the only one around now who played in a game in blue and white during the 2007-08 season.

“I was in the lineup with Mats Sundin,” Boyce said. “It has been a whirlwind. I’m just going to fight tooth and nail to make sure I keep this.”

COACH’S LUCKY CHARM

For Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, Darryl Boyce no longer is a guy he might have trouble picking out of a crowd.

“You see it in the way he plays, he carries himself differently now because of that experience he picked up last year,” Wilson said. “He is confident player.

“He is like my rabbit’s foot. When he was in the lineup (last season), we won. I’m as superstitious as the next guy. Hopefully, he does a good enough job to make all of our decisions difficult.”

Performances in exhibition games will determine if Boyce keeps his job as the fourth-line centre. Mike Zigomanis and Philippe Dupuis also have designs on the role.

“I’m not rooting for anybody,” Wilson said. “But that is a potential opening. That’s what players have been told — (general manager) Brian (Burke) will clear a spot if you clearly win the job.”

 


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