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Competition Cranks Up At Day 1 Of Camp

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Jason Allison and Tyler Bozak are two players seemingly going in two different but related directions as the Maple Leafs opened training camp at the spanking new MasterCard Centre For Hockey Excellence, Sunday.

Allison is a six-foot-three centreman, a 34-year-old who owns 154 goals struck while playing for Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and, in his last incarnation three seasons ago, the Leafs. He was a first rounder in 1993 and you could time his skating with a sundial. The Leafs have granted him a tryout and nothing more.

Bozak went undrafted because of widespread concerns about his size. He is very fast, a two-way threat and 23-years-old. A late bloomer, the University of Denver star was considered a coup for general manager Brian Burke but he has never played a minute in the NHL.

Allison’s chances of making the club would be ranked as miniscule. His plodding stride is noticeable in today’s game but he retains the hands of a safecracker and a fine view of the ice.

His problem centres on the numbers.

“Jason is not a guy who is going to play on the third or fourth line,” said coach Ron Wilson. “He’s got to show he can play on the first two lines.”

His return was uneventful.

“The vision on the ice and reading the play comes back to you,” said Allison, who looked quite good in the scrimmage. “Obviously I need to get used to the speed again. That will probably be the biggest challenge right now.”

After starting slowly in his first skirmish against NHLers, Bozak found his pace and set-up a dizzying John Mitchell goal at the end of the scrimmage, won 3-0 by Team Sittler.

“I felt pretty good but it was tough,” he said. “The strength and the speed and the passing is unbelievable. It was certainly not something that I was used to, but I got into it more and more as the game went on."

So let’s go back to Wilson and the top two lines. Mikhail Grabovski’s 20 goals last season makes him the club’s undisputed number one pivot. Matt Stajan is coming off a 55-point year so it’s hard to believe he will be bumped aside. The ever improving John Mitchell is lock to make the team.

If someone was going to knock Stajan or Mitchell down in the pecking order, it would have to be a player with enough upside to be able to play the number two hole, someone with very good offensive instincts but someone who could carry the freight defensively. Speed would be essential.

Tyler Bozak, come on down. And that would not auger well for Allison.

Wilson, for one, loved what he seen so far out of Bozak.

“He is going to fight someone for a job for sure,” said the coach. “He’ll get a lot of play in exhibition games. You can’t predict anything, but of all the young people I’ve seen so far, he’s probably been the most impressive.”

“That’s very exciting,” Bozak said when told of Wilson’s remarks.

“I wasn’t sure where I stood, but I just tried to come out and play to the best of my ability. If the coach is saying good things, that’s exciting.”

Jiri Tlusty, Robert Slaney and Jay Rosehill also scored for Team Sittler.

Wilson has worked out the initial pairings for his defence.

“I’d like to settle with (Mike) Komisarek playing with (Tomas) Kaberle and Luke Schenn playing with (Francois) Beauchemin,” he said. “The rest of the spots will be wide open.

That leaves Jeff Finger, longshot Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Van Ryn, Jonas Frogren and Ian White fighting for two or perhaps three spots on the Leafs’ blueline.

Goalie Jonas Gustavsson was cleared for practice. He became dizzy Saturday while strenuously exercising in his fitness test and was taken to hospital by ambulance.

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