Loss of Korolev hits Kulemin hard

Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin lost one of his best friends, Igor Korolev, in the Locomotiv...

Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin lost one of his best friends, Igor Korolev, in the Locomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash. (HANS DERYK/Reuters file photo)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:50 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA - Nikolai Kulemin and Igor Korolev would meet last winter in Toronto every one or two weeks for dinner.

It wasn’t unusual for Kulemin to talk to Korolev after Maple Leafs games to get some advice from his close friend.

Kulemin acknowledged on Wednesday that it is with a heavy heart that he is participating in Leafs training camp, just two weeks after Korolev died in the Locomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash.

Kulemin and teammate Mikhail Grabovski were among the mourners Sunday at Korolev’s funeral in Toronto.

“It’s bad when you lose a friend, especially one of my best friends,” Kulemin said. “I feel (just) okay. You have to go on.

“When you go on the ice, you forget about everything else and you just go out and play.”

Kulemin met Korolev when the two were teammates with Magnitogorsk in Russia, and were linemates. They played together for three seasons, from 2005 to 2008. On Sept. 6, the day before the crash, Korolev turned 41.

“I spoke with him that evening, just said: ‘Happy Birthday’ and good luck, because it was going to be his first game as an (assistant) coach,” Kulemin said.

“He was a good teacher. The young guys respected him a lot, and nobody said any bad words about him.”

SHORT ON FRANSON

Cody Franson did not kill penalties as a member of the Nashville Predators, but he will get a shot to prove he is effective in short-handed situations with the Leafs.

Franson spent a grand total of nine minutes, 18 seconds, on the ice last season when the Predators were short-handed, watching as fellow defencemen Kevin Klein, Shane O’Brien, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter helped give Nashville the fifth-best penalty-killing percentage (84.9%) in the NHL.

“I’ve killed penalties with every team I have played with, except Nashville,” Franson said. “I love doing it. I take a lot of pride in being able to read a situation. I think offensively, so I can read plays. I think I would do a good job here.”

Once the Leafs start practising with their main roster, Franson will be getting an opportunity, coach Ron Wilson said this week. Wilson said he likes the “wing span” of the 6-foot-5, 213-pound Franson.

The Leafs were 28th in penalty killing last season, at 77.4%.

SESTITO? WHO?

During the Leafs’ 4-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre, Joffrey Lupul got mixed up with Flyers enforcer Tom Sestito, who had 192 penalty minutes with Springfield of the AHL last season.

Sestito and Lupul were given fighting majors, but Lupul did not do much punching.

“Some guys were saying he is a fighter in the American league and was just trying to make some type of impression,” Lupul said. “Luckily, he just made an impression on my helmet, for the most part. I don’t know who he is.”

Lupul was sporting stitches on his upper lip, but said he was clipped during practice on Monday.


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