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Bozak, Robinson linked by 42

- April 23rd, 2013

Tyler Bozak never thought accepting an awkward hockey number such as 42 would have some historical significance.
But the Leaf centre is getting lots of attention the past few weeks with the release of ‘42’, the biopic of Jackie Robinson’s struggles to break the colour barrier in baseball. Bozak took a special interest when the picture was released, as he is a huge baseball fan (pals with Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia among others) and a media keener as the son of a TV station exec in Regina.
“I haven’t seen the movie yet,” Bozak said before the Leafs went to Florida for the week. “But I get lots of tweets about it because of having the same number. I love sports movies and it’s obviously a pretty inspiring movie for what Jackie Robinson did for baseball and for the sports world in general.
“I’m curious to find out what he went through during it all, what he had to deal with. And it’s got good reviews. Growing up in Canada, the Blue Jays were always on TV. I got to like baseball from there. Getting to know some of the guys on the team and spendimg some time with them makes you follow it a little more.”
In 1997, Major League Baseball universally retired 42, the only league to have made such a gesture other than the NHL for Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99. But Bozak didn’t seek 42 when he came to the Leafs for 2009-10 training camp.
“I wanted 21, which I wore in college (Denver), but it was taken,” Bozak said. “As a rookie, I didn’t quite feel in position to ask for 21, so the team doubled it and turned it into 42.
“I started to like it a little more and I stuck with it.”

Franson in the swing

- January 31st, 2013

Cody Franson stopped swinging for the fences a few years ago and it’s helped raise his goal tally in hockey.
The big Maple Leaf defenceman enjoyed the big wind-up from the point – before he got to the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League and found he was telegraphing his shot too much, allowing opponents to block or check him.
“I worked a lot with the defensive coach with Vancouver, Craig Bonner,” said Franson of the current general manager of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. “He gave me a lot of pucks at practice that I had to get away quickly.”
The result is that Franson has one of the hardest, accurate, fast releases in the NHL, with minimal backswing. It often takes goalies by surprise, such as Ryan Miller of the Sabres earlier this week. Franson, who says his strong golf game in the off-season also helps his shot, now has three points in as many games, prior to Thursday’s game against Washington.
Coach Randy Carlyle says Franson has earned a longer look, which is good news as he’s been a healthy scratch too often for his liking since joining the Leafs last year.

Pass the Buck, hockey’s back at MLG

- August 13th, 2012

Pass the Buck, hockey back at MLG
lance.hornby – August 13th, 2012 (Edit)
As a young fan, Andrew Buck picked Wendel Clark as his favourite Maple Leaf, emulating everything about him right down to wearing No. 17.
But in a few weeks, Buck can take a page from Clark’s book he never thought possible – captaining a hockey team that plays out of Maple Leaf Gardens.
Buck’s Ryerson University Rams will begin work in the new Mattamy Athletic Centre, with a 3,000-seat pad built a few storeys above the original ice at the Carlton St. Cash Box. Most vestiges of the Leafs, and the Gardens’ name and logo have been scrubbed clean as part of the recent legal settlement with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. But just one look at the famous domed roof, hidden from public view since 1999, made public governance student Buck a bit spaghetti-legged on his skates.
“There might be a bit of pressure on us the first few games,” joked Buck, joining RU women’s team counterpart Kyla Thurston for the Aug. 13 ceremonial faceoff with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mayor Rob Ford. “That was a surreal moment out there with the Prime Minister. But we want to get past our first couple of games and do some amazing things here the next couple of years. Hopefully win a national championship.”
Buck, who is from Newmarket, recalls coming to the Gardens with his late grandfather George Moxey and late uncle Rob Dicintio, once or twice a year in the 1990s.
“I was here for Doug Gilmour’s 1,000th point and all the Leafs went on the ice with him. A couple of buddies reminded me I’ll be the first captain to play in here since (Mats) Sundin, but I was really a Wendel fan.
“It’s still going to be the Gardens to me, like people still call Rogers Centre the Skydome. A lot of people coming here will still call it the Gardens, too. I’d have liked to see that big Leaf stay on the top (of the exterior). But Ryerson has done such an amazing job putting this whole thing together.
“We don’t want to come in here and not have a great season. We had a good one last year, some good guys are coming back and we’re capable of some great things.”
The two hockey teams of note in the Gardens since its opening in 1931, the Leafs and junior Marlboroughs, both won many championships. Toronto’s last Stanley Cup was here in 1967.
Ryerson president Sheldon Levy reminded the audience at the puck drop that the other five Original Six NHL rinks have been either razed or completely renovated and that MLG is the only one still with ice, more than 80 years after construction.

Kids say darndest things

- June 21st, 2012

Reporters covering the Maple Leafs often get coy or conflicting answers from the players, making it hard to get a read on them.
The team brass had its own challenges the past few weeks interviewing a number of potential junior first round candidates.
“(Amateur scouting director) Dave Morrison and his group were pretty focused on this after it became clear we’d get a very high pick,” said executive vice president Dave Nonis. “You can narrow it down if you’re picking (fifth overall), but in the top 20s it’s harder, you’re looking at such a wide spectrum.
“They did a good job, going out, bringing the boys in (to the Leafs’ training facility in Etobicoke) and in terms of their talent assessment, character assessment and speaking to the appropriate people. I think we put the appropriate time in.”
During the NHL scouting combine earlier this month, the Leafs chatted up the players and had them interviewed by team psychologists and examined doctors. It’s info the Leafs can use down the road, even if they don’t pick them.
“I visited them, did some physical testng and went to their training centre,” said Czech forward Radek Faksa, ranked in the middle of the first round. “It was very beautiful. All the guys were very nice to me.”
Faksa will have one regret if picked by the Leafs, that he won’t see the departed Tomas Kaberle. Faksa joined the OHL Kitchener Rangers a year too late to see the defencman before he was traded.
“I was sad last year that nobody Czech was playing in Toronto,” Faksa said. “Maybe I will go to Toronto where there are Czech people. But there are many nice people in Kitchener, many Czech people. They invite home me for dinner.”

Kings add to Leaf Cup misery

- June 12th, 2012

Brian Burke does not think the present 45-year Cup drought of the Maple Leafs should be hung like a millstone on the present team.
Fair enough, though we’d like to think those “1940” chants on Long Island eventually lit a fire under the New York Rangers. And the Chicago Blackhawks were sick of being reminded they had the longest Cup drought before passing that hex to the Leafs.
A bunch of players born in the 1980s and a few in the ‘90s, don’t need a history lesson drilled in them every night they play, but the day after another new champion is crowned, it’s worth pointing out how the Leafs have been lapped.
The L.A. Kings become the 17th team to win the Cup since the Leafs in ‘67 and the 12th to start from scratch. That field includes four of the six expansion teams after ‘67, L.A., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Minnesota (via Dallas). The eight others are the Islanders, Oilers, Flames, Devils, Avalanche, Ducks, Lightning and Hurricanes. Then add the other five Original Six clubs, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston and Montreal.
And as the Leafs haven’t made the final since ‘67, it bears noting the Blues, Canucks, Panthers, Sabres, Capitals and Senators were at least in the building when the Cup was presented.
Should all this be a taboo topic in Toronto? Or better yet, a motivator for players and management.