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Injury to van Riemsdyk creates opportunity

by Adam Proteau / Toronto Maple Leafs

As the Maple Leafs braved the bluster of winter for their annual outdoor public practice, another chill – the chill of knowing offensive cornerstone James van Riemsdyk would be sidelined for the next 6-8 weeks with a non-displaced fracture of his left foot – was settling in. But in his famously straight-ahead manner, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said the expectations in the dressing room and on the ice remain the same.

“We just move forward,” Babcock said Monday morning after the team’s outdoor practice before hundreds of delirious Buds fans in East York’s Dieppe Park. “There’s nothing you can do. Someone else gets an opportunity. They’re going to have to embrace it.”

Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf acknowledged what a loss it is to have van Riemsdyk – who led all Leafs point-getters with 29 in 40 games, and who was second in scoring with 14 goals – out of the lineup, but echoed his coach’s sentiments about his teammates stepping up in van Riemsdyk’s absence.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Phaneuf said of van Riemdsyk’s injury. “He’s a big part of our team. He’s had a real good year for us up front, and the biggest thing for me when you lose a guy like JVR, I think he’s so consistent. He brings it night-in and night out. Injuries are part of the game and there’s an opportunity for someone else to step up, but it’s a big loss.”

To replace van Riemsdyk on the active roster, Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello recalled winger Josh Leivo from the AHL Marlies. The 22-year-old was third in scoring on the Marlies with 11 goals and 30 points in 35 games, and his speed and soft hands are two of the reasons he got the promotion.

The Innisfil, Ont., native, selected 86th overall by Toronto in the 2011 NHL draft, has 16 games of NHL experience and has a goal and three points in that span. Leivo had been named to play in the AHL All-Star Game on Jan. 31, but like all players, he’s hoping his performance with the Maple Leafs will preclude him from returning to that league and skating in that event.

“I’m just trying to make the most of it up here,” Leivo said Monday. “I just want to get on the ice and help this team win.”

Toronto has been relatively fortunate in regard to the injury bug this season, and while there’s no doubt van Riemsdyk will be missed, Monday’s practice was an opportunity for Leafs players to regroup after a tough 7-0 loss to San Jose Saturday. It also gave them a chance to strengthen their bond with a community that clearly, dearly loves them.

“It’s an honor to be out here to be able to practice in front of our fans outdoors,” Phaneuf said. “To see the fan turnout, that’s pretty impressive. It’s cold, but fans are wrapped around the whole (facility). It’s special to us as players, and we enjoyed the day.”

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