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Bell To Play First Game Tuesday, Wellwood Likely To Play

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO (CP) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs debut Mark Bell has spent countless hours thinking about and waiting for finally comes Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators.

And what a time to make his return from a 15-game suspension stemming from a drinking and driving incident in San Jose last year - the Sens are off to a 12-1-0 start this season and will be seeking a club-record eighth-straight win when the teams clash at Scotiabank Place.

``That's the best way to do it, play against the best team in the league and the fastest team, I think,'' a relieved-looking Bell said after practice Monday. ``I'm really looking forward to it, going against the best in my first game back.''

Bell might not be the only reinforcement for the Maple Leafs, trudging along at 6-6-3 so far this season. Slick centre Kyle Wellwood is also likely to see his first action of the season following surgery for a sports hernia.

A final decision on his status will be made following Tuesday's morning skate.

``Everything's been going great and I haven't had any setbacks, I definitely want to play,'' said Wellwood. ``To get to play (against Ottawa) would be a treat. They're the top dogs in the league and the Eastern Conference right now so they're a team we'd like to beat.''

The Senators have been rolling ever since sweeping Toronto in a home-and-home series to open the season while their bitter arch-rivals have alternated between good and bad from night to night.

The Leafs played well Saturday in a 3-2 road win against the Montreal Canadians and hope to become the second team, after the Carolina Hurricanes, to beat Ottawa this season.

``You can't get a better test than that, we should really be excited to go in there,'' said Leafs captain Mats Sundin. ``It's a great challenge to play in their building and with the record they have, they're the team to beat right now in the league.

``We're trying to get to the level they are, we're not there yet. It'll be a good measuring stick for us.''

The creative Wellwood should help boost a terrible power play that ranks 26th in the NHL with just nine goals in 67 chances, while Bell should give head coach Paul Maurice a smooth-skating big body who can kill penalties and finish his checks.

``(Wellwood's) hands are spectacular and he does some things on the ice and he moves into places that he's not expected to go,'' said Maurice. ``(Bell's) got good hands, he's a big man, he can bang a little bit, he's got a huge shot.

``I'd like to see a real simple game but mostly I hope he has some fun.''

Maurice plans to start them both off slowly, with Bell and John Pohl playing the wing alongside Wellwood if he's OK to go.

Wellwood is likely to play 8-12 minutes in all, mostly on the power play.

``We're ready to contribute,'' said Wellwood. ``Spending a lot off time together in the training room and being roommates on the road there, we definitely want to come back and contribute something and find a way to help us win.''

For Bell, Tuesday's game will mark another important step in leaving his troubles of last season in the past. His suspension came after he pleaded no contest to criminal drunk-driving charges stemming from his arrest last September.

He is due to serve six months in a California county jail at the end of the season. Bell hasn't had a drink since the incident and has accepted full responsibility for his actions.

``This hasn't gone fast for me. It's been a long time since I've played a game, since training camp it's been a long time,'' said Bell. ``I've had a lot of time to think about a lot of things.''

The Maple Leafs acquired Bell from the Sharks in June along with goaltender Vesa Toskala and are eager to see what he can do. Maurice expects Bell to try and make an impression in his first few shifts and is happy to let him go.

``I'm not going to try to take any of his enthusiasm for playing in this game away,'' said Maurice. ``This man has been through as much as any of us can handle and he's handled it about as well as I think could possible be done.''

Wellwood, meanwhile, hopes his physical problems are also a thing of the past. He had surgery last January and thought the problem was solved until it flared up again in training camp, requiring a second operation.

Starting, stopping and shooting were particularly tough on the groin but he now has enough confidence that he can play without questions in his mind.

``I definitely had that when I came back last year and even going into this year, playing in exhibitions and training camp, I was really worried about getting hurt,'' he said. ``They were waiting for the point that I wasn't worried that I'd get hurt and that's where I'm at now.''

Notes: Both Darcy Tucker (knee) and Bryan McCabe (groin) skated on their own before practice and Maurice hopes they might be ready to return this weekend. ... Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) has had two tough workouts on his knee but Maurice wouldn't hazard a guess on when he might return.
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