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A Few Surprises As Leafs Set Roster

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs’ cutdown day came down to the fact that when people win an Academy Award, they often don’t have a speech.

“People who never win have always prepared a speech,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson was saying. “The person who does win doesn’t have a speech. He won in this because he’s never prepared one of those speeches.”

He is 21-year-old Jake Gardiner, who along with Philippe Dupuis and Matt Frattin escaped cutdown day to secure a spot on their new teams.

While those three stuck, defenceman Keith Aulie and centre Mike Zigomanis were sent to the Marlies. Matt Lashoff, Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce were waived with the intention of relocating them to the Leafs AHL affiliate.

It never occurred to Gardiner to prepare an exit interview because he never thought he was going, despite never having played in the NHL.

Gardiner is a fearless hockey player. He jumps into the play and slides into the slot without reserve but his sense of the game and superior skating consistently goose the odds in his favour. He has marvelous hands and while he will never overpower players, his stick is as fast as his feet.

Going into decision day, Gardiner hadn’t considered what he would say in case General Manager Brian Burke called him into the office to send him down. You know ‘I learned a lot, I will see you soon,’  that sort of thing.

“I never had that speech ready,” he said. “Whatever happened, happened. I am sure I would have said ‘thank you for the opportunity’ but there was nothing set in my mind.”

The fact that Gardiner made no allowances speaks to who he is.

“The biggest thing for me is that he’s very confident,” said Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf. “You need that confidence. You have to be sure of yourself and he is.”

Luke Schenn, who walked out of junior and onto the Leafs lineup as an 18-year-old gets how Gardiner flew without a net.

“I wasn’t thinking about getting cut,” Schenn remembered.  “Being cut wasn’t an option.”

Frattin, for his part, at least had a plan.

“I probably wouldn’t have been doing too much talking unless he (GM Brian Burke or Wilson) was asking questions,” he said.

“If they sent you down you have to take it and play just as well down there.”

The heavens don’t open when you make a hockey team. It’s not like high school or Glee. There is no sheet posted on the bulletin board.

“You see a jersey in your stall and there you go,” Frattin said.

Here’s a rundown.

Jake Gardiner: The addition of Gardiner and the offseason acquisition of John-Michael Liles gave the Leafs a much faster, puckhandling defence. Both Liles and Gardiner moved effortlessly to the power play point position so one of the Leafs’ most damaging deficiencies should be improved. Teamed with a slimmer but still hulking Mike Komisarek, Gardiner won’t be pushed around.

Matt Frattin: With Clarke MacArthur suspended for two games, Frattin will start his NHL career on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, the team’s top two forwards.

Philippe Dupuis: Dupuis was given a chance to address another glaring need, a penalty killing centreman who can handle himself in the face-off circle. His tenure is a little less secure since Matt Lombardi will start the fourth line, leaving, for now at least, Dupuis in the press box.

Carl Gunnarsson: Gunnarsson spent much of the first half of the season in the press box. Now he will work with Phaneuf on the team’s number one pairing. “Thanks for reminding me of that,” Gunnarsson laughed. “That was last year,” he said. “This is a new start.” Phaneuf for one is confident the new pairing will work. “He’s a real good player so I’m looking forward to it. He blocks shots, moves the puck and skates well. I’m really happy about playing with him.”

Keith Aulie: The biggest surprise. He had an inauspicious camp but plummeting from the first pairing to the Marlies is a big step down.

“In his case, we play two games in the first two weeks. He needs to go and play and re-assert himself,” Wilson said. “There is no reason why he got beat out other than Jake had a really good camp. We’re not discouraged by Keith’s play. He just wasn’t as good as Jake. I anticipate him sooner rather than later.”

Cody Franson:
Franson was shooting for a top-six spot coming out of camp. Acquired over the summer, Franson is the Leafs seventh defenceman behind Phaneuf and Gunnarsson, Schenn and Liles and Komisarek and Gardiner.

Joey Crabb: Crabb had a good camp as well but the addition of three new forwards, Tim Connolly, Frattin and Lombardi made him dispensable. The same goes for Zigomanis.

Darryl Boyce: It came down to a job on the penalty kill and Dupuis has 86 NHL games under his belt.

Matt Lashoff: Another player the Leafs are hoping to draw on from the Marlies.
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