All hail the return of truculence

Maple Leafs forward Mike Brown fights with Canadiens forward Brad Staubitz at the Bell Centre in...

Maple Leafs forward Mike Brown fights with Canadiens forward Brad Staubitz at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Que., March 3, 2012. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:39 PM ET

MONTREAL - It took just the first blast from Randy Carlyle’s whistle Saturday to wake up the normal quiet routine of the game-day skate and announce there was a new sheriff in town.

The morning session, which Ron Wilson had been given to scrapping late in the season, was decidedly more upbeat than usual as the bewildered players got the first, noisy dose of the new man in charge.

Towards the end of the 40-minute skate at the Bell Centre, Carlyle had a lengthy conversation with Mike Komisarek, the sometimes-bumbling, sometimes bruising defenceman who had long ago fallen out of favour with Wilson.

The message: It’s time for this team to get physical and here’s your chance to prove it.

And earlier in a frenetic day around the team, the closest thing we would hear to criticism of Wilson and the players he coached, came in measured words from Brian Burke, reminiscent of the impassioned speech he gave the day he was hired.

“If there’s one philosophical commitment that Randy and I share, I like a rough team,” Burke said moments after officially introducing Carlyle as the franchise’s 28th head coach. “If you can point to one thing where Ron and I were on a different page, slightly, it would be that. I like it a little rougher than Ron does.

“(Carlyle) is hard on the players, he’s demanding. And that’s the way I want it.”

All hail the return of truculence.

The first time they get a dose of a heavy Carlyle practice, players aren’t necessarily going to share that view, but it wasn’t just Burke’s eyes that had seen the Leafs go soft in so many ways recently. It was a gradual erosion over Wilson’s tenure but blatantly obvious over the most recent, rotten three weeks.

Forwards and defencemen both lose battles in the corners. There was rarely useful traffic in front of the other team’s net and the big, bruising hits designed to intimidate the opponent in the Burke way were all part of the distant past.

So in comes Carlyle, the Sudbury native and former Leaf player, a coach with the surly reputation of a drill sergeant. Who better to preach and practice the Burke way?

It’s going to take a handful of games — time the Leafs don’t really have — to get the players immersed in his style and systems, but Carlyle wasted no time getting a start at it Saturday against the Habs. Working the bench like it was the Stanley Cup final, if the young Leafs were lacking in direction, they quickly realized they are going to get it now.

“We have to find a way to re-energize the group,” Carlyle said prior to his first night in blue and white since he played for the team in the late 70s. “We have to re-kindle their spirit. They have an opportunity now to show a new face, make an impression. I’m new here, let’s make sure you give me everything you’ve got, both on and off the ice.”

In a meeting with the frazzled team late Friday night — they were summoned via text and email from various Montreal eateries — Carlyle made it clear that starting immediately they were all on try out.

“I (told them): ‘Don’t leave anything in the box here,’” Carlyle said. “We’re looking for people who are going to stand up and come out and play with a lot of heart and determination. Play the game we want you to play and you will be rewarded.”

When it became obvious on Tuesday night that he was going to get himself a new coach, Burke kicked the tires of other options, including his former Vancouver coach, Marc Crawford, Marlies coach Dallas Eakins and current Leafs assistants.

But in the end, if the GM is finally going to build the type of team he has wanted since arriving here, there was only one choice.

“This is a guy who is not going to be friendly and warm and fuzzy with the guys on the bench,” Burke said. “The game shouldn’t be fun. That’s not the way it works. That’s not a hockey player’s life. Randy’s demanding on players.”

If there’s one thing Burke likes less than overseeing a hockey team not inclined to push around an opponent, it is to have anyone associated with his group humiliated. The team’s tumble down the standings has hit him hard as did the scene Tuesday night when the Toronto crowd turned ugly.

During that loss as the “Fire Wilson” chants escalated, Burke fumed inwardly and ultimately decided he couldn’t take any more.

By Wednesday, the Leafs had begun the process of approaching Carlyle and by Friday afternoon Burke was ready to fire off an email to Wilson for a meeting that both men knew what was coming.

“After the last home game it was clear to me it would be cruel and unusual punishment to allow Ron to coach another game in the Air Canada Centre,” Burke said. “I wasn’t going to put him through that.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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