October 14, 2011
Put up, shut up time for FransonFormer Pred makes Leafs debut Saturday
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Cody Franson has certainly been heard the past 10 days.
Now Ron Wilson wants the big defenceman to be seen. The Maple Leafs coach issued a challenge to Franson on Friday to channel his disgruntlement at sitting out the team’s first two games into proving himself a regular when the schedule resumes against the Calgary Flames.
“He’s going to play (Saturday) and the rest is up to him,” Wilson said after a six-day game hiatus for the Leafs mercifully came to an end. “He’s put a lot of pressure on himself talking this week and now he has to perform.”
Franson, an everyday player with Nashville last season, missed just two games to attend his great-grandfather’s funeral. But much to his shock and chagrin, Wilson sat him in favour of rookie Jake Gardiner in eventual Toronto wins against Montreal and Ottawa. The reason given was a less-than stellar training camp, though the Leafs were no doubt interested in what Gardiner could do on the big stage.
The proud Franson begged to differ with the assessment of his play at camp and hasn’t been shy about expressing his frustration since last Thursday. He did get an explanation/pep talk from assistant coach Rob Zettler and after calls to his family and his agent, he has stopped trying to question what his superiors were thinking.
Franson will be paired with Mike Komisarek against the Flames. His surprise benching and the time off between Leaf games might have made people forget he was one of the summer’s prize acquisitions, one of nine National Hockey League defencemen to have at least 20 points and a double digit plus-minus rating the past two seasons. He also played 12 playoff games for the Predators, a spring eternity compared to many dormant Leafs.
“(The benching) was new and something I had to deal with,” he said. “That’s the way this game goes. I have to move past it.
“The last week was good, (three days in) Trenton was a lot of fun and the boys had a good time. But I’m looking forward to finally getting in a game and putting on that jersey.”
His first start comes too late for his mother Karen, who took time off work to fly in from B.C. for the two opening games she thought he’d be participating in last week. But he figures everyone he knows in the Sicamous B.C., area, many of them life-long Leaf fans, will be tuned in on Saturday.
Teammates have tried to be as supportive as possible the past two weeks.
“You need at least seven guys to be successful,” captain Dion Phaneuf said. “Injuries happen, lineups can change and it’s just part of being a good team. Guys go in, they go out and they step up when they’re needed. I know all seven of our guys are capable of doing that job.”
“Everyone (made a big fuss) about having a week off, but now we play six in 10, so it always comes back to even out (from a wear and tear standpoint). I looked around the league this week and there wasn’t a whole lot of games. (Thursday) was the biggest day with 10. So it wasn’t just us (resting) and we didn’t miss much.
“Now it will be a very busy week for everyone.”
For goaltender James Reimer, Franson’s 6-foot-5, 213-pound frame will be welcomed when his field of vision needs to be cleared of opposing forwards.
“He’s not small, he’s not weak and as a goalie, those are the guys who take care of you,” Reimer said. “Defencemen are always fighting for you and he brings size and stature. That’s a little more confidence and comfort level for me back there.
“In practice he works hard, he has a great shot and I’m excited to see him in there with a chance to play his first game. In the defensive zone, he works hard to get into shot lanes and to block passes. I think he’ll do a heck of a job. And he’s (from Western Canada), the best kind to have.”
Rather than break up his other pairings, Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn and John-Michael Liles, Wilson will just submit Franson for the fleet-footed Gardiner. Everyone is anxious to see the results.