Connolly's return to Buffalo just 'another game'

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:32 PM ET

If Tim Connolly had a reputation as a soft, brittle performer in the National Hockey League when he was with the Buffalo Sabres, it didn’t extend to many of those who played against him.

“He’s a smart player, a guy known around the league as a high-end player,” Maple Leafs forward Colby Armstrong said on Wednesday after the team practised at the MasterCard Centre.

“A lot of his stuff goes unnoticed. Blocking shots, nifty hands, a lot of little things he does when he gets the puck. He’s a big part of our team.”

Connolly signed a two-year contract for a total of $9.5-million US with the Leafs last July and on Friday night, will make his initial return to Buffalo, where he was a Sabre for nine seasons. During his tenure with the Sabres, Connolly suffered two major concussion and other injuries, and he missed the entire 2003-04 season as well as most of 2006-07, and parts of other seasons. He was dubbed ‘Tiny Tim’ by some media, and was that unfair? “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion,” Connolly said. “I just go out one day at a time and enjoy it.”

Thanks to injuries, Connolly has missed 12 of the Leafs’ 30 games. But in the 18 he has played, including each of the past 12, he has 15 points (six goals and nine assists) and his savvy has been a boon for a club that is among the youngest in the NHL. Connolly never will be the most physical player — he has been credited with just two body checks this season — but he puts his body in harm’s way to the tune of 22 blocked shots, second-most among Leafs forwards.

“First and foremost, I want to play strong defensively and get the puck and move it up to my wingers,” Connolly said. “For me, it’s about doing the job in the defensive end, and once you do that, you can get the puck back and go on offence.”

The expectation from Connolly and others is that he will get booed at the First Niagara Center on Friday night. Of course, considering that thousands of Leafs fans regularly cross the border to watch their club play in Buffalo, Connolly might hear as many cheers.

The 30-year-old claimed he hadn’t circled the game on his calendar — or made note of it on his smart phone.

“(I just knew about it) from being told about it and asked about it,” Connolly, who scored both Toronto goals in a 2-1 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, said. “It’s another game. The two points are important for us and for both teams right now.

“I’m sure it will be an exciting atmosphere, it always has been in the past with Leafs-Sabres games in that building. It’s a big rivalry with a great atmosphere. Building is pretty loud. Both teams being cheered for, so it’s always a fun game.”

Few Leafs have been around Connolly as much as Clarke MacArthur, who was a teammate with the Sabres. They’re on the same line with Armstrong in Toronto, and also spent approximately 30 games together on a line in Buffalo with Jason Pominville.

That Connolly had his critics in The Queen City was something that didn’t surprise MacArthur, but for reasons that might not be obvious.

“It was just that he was there for so long, and people expected the world from him,” MacArthur said. “It’s kind of unfair to put a guy in that spot. If you saw his highlight reel, some of the goals he scored were unbelievable. I think they expected him to do that every night, but it’s the NHL and you can’t do that every night.

“This has been a fresh start for him and he has done a great job.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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