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Boyle Adjusting to New City, New Role

by Adam Proteau /

Brian Boyle has been a Maple Leaf for only a week now, and the veteran NHL centre is still getting acclimated to his new surroundings in Toronto. To call the past seven days a whirlwind doesn't do it justice: he had to fly from Tampa Bay out to San Jose (and make a connecting trip) to meet the Leafs on the first game of their three-game California road trip, work with the team's behind-the-scenes staff to help get settled in his new home city before he even got there, and coordinate with his pregnant wife to bring her to Toronto and get her comfortable before their second child is due to arrive in late May.

All this, and he still hasn't played his first game in front of Leafs Nation at Air Canada Centre yet. But that will change with Tuesday's showdown against the division-rival Detroit Red Wings, and Boyle was looking forward to doing so as he spoke with the media after practice Monday afternoon.

"It's a fun place to play, and a new experience as a home building," said Boyle, who was originally drafted 26th overall by Los Angeles in 2003. "I'm excited."

After being acquired from Tampa Bay last Monday, Boyle is, in short order, learning the system of Leafs head coach Mike Babcock (with next to no time to practice), understanding his role as a 32-year-old veteran on a young Toronto squad, and preparing himself for what he hopes will be another lengthy playoff run. Indeed, Boyle has enjoyed much success in that regard in the five years prior to this season: in all five years - three with the New York Rangers, and the past two with the Lightning - he's played at least 11 post-season games. In four of the five years, he's played in at least 17 games. And for two consecutive years, he played in 25 games. 

That's the type of invaluable experience that made him so attractive to a number of suitors prior to the trade deadline, and why Leafs management was so happy to bring him - as well as forward Eric Fehr, who won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh last season - into the mix.

"What him and Fehr bring off the ice and as people is more important or as important as what they bring on the ice," said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. "As a fan, you could say, 'Well, that doesn't make any sense - you don't win any games in the (dressing) room.' But what you do is you learn how to be a pro, and you learn how to do it right. You learn a respect for the game, and these guys both played a ton of games. Fehr just won the Cup. We have Smitty for the same reason - he's a Cup-winner. I think it's so important that you learn what it takes to be a great, great pro, and then the more of those good pros you have in your room, the better chance you have for success."

Boyle has played in high-pressure situations and on different types of teams over the course of his 10-year NHL career, but although he's made it to the Eastern Conference Final and the league championship in the past two seasons with Tampa Bay, he doesn't believe there are that many differences between the Bolts and this season's Leafs.

"It's pretty much still a younger team in Tampa when I got there anyways, so it's similar in that regard," Boyle said. "Lot of skill, good young kids. I think the kids here are committed. Everybody's here early getting their work in, so if you're a veteran guy and they want you to be a positive influence, it makes your job a little bit easier. I think we've got some good character kids in here."

Boyle also has been impressed by Babcock in his brief time under the coach's tutelage.

"The passion and the energy he brings for the game, it's amazing, really," Boyle said of Babcock. "The knowledge, too. The guys he knows throughout the league, I think you have to really love the game to know what he knows and do what he does. That's evident. He wants to get this thing turned around, he took on a tall task, and his attention to detail, I think it's good for a player. It really kind of pushes you to become a better player."

As Toronto continues to push for a playoff berth in the competitive East, Boyle's knowledge and professionalism will be leaned on by the Leafs' youngsters to help guide them through challenges. Getting traded away from a team he was emotionally connected to was a challenge for him, but Boyle said Leafs management and coaches have made the transition easy, and he's now focused completely on doing what's asked of him.

"Everybody's been extremely welcoming, especially the guys in (the dressing room)," Boyle said. "(GM) Lou (Lamoriello) and (team president Brendan Shanahan) and Babs have gone all-out to try and make me feel comfortable away from the rink. It's been huge."

And with the Red Wings in town and just 18 regular-season games left to play, Boyle knows there's no time for letting it all sink in right now. Rather, it's time to deliver whatever he can to help the team win and return to the playoffs.

"These games are critical," he said."And if I'm getting an opportunity, I have to do my part, so I want to be prepared for it."

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