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Leafs Can Learn Much From Road Trip

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Mikhail Grabovski, Niklas Hagman, Ryan Hollweg, Nikolai Kulemin, Jamal Mayers, the injured John Mitchell, Jeff Finger, Jonas Frogren and Luke Schenn are to experience something knew.

This week, they will learn what it means to be Toronto Maple Leafs.

It isn’t just that the Leafs are off on a week-long junket to Western Canada that takes them to Calgary tonight, Edmonton Thursday and Vancouver on Saturday. Yes there will be the requisite bonding, if that’s what you call what hockey players do. Luke Schenn, John Mitchell, Jonas Frogren, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski can expect a rookie dinner where they buy for the house.

But when players come to play in Toronto, they are quite naturally struck by the level of interest, even adulation, they encounter when they play at home.

Every year, new players learn their kingdom extends past the GTA and into Canadian burgs swollen by Leafs fans. Vancouver is where Toronto people go when they lose their taste for winter. Calgary is the destination if you have an irrepressible desire to eat and feed your loved ones. And Edmonton, well Edmonton is Edmonton.

Leaf fans will fill the team’s hotel and choke the lobby. They will take turns drowning out the local fans and when the Leafs score it will sound, just for a second, like the team is still home. God help the locals if the Leafs win.

The Leafs find a Flames team that has just one win in its five games but nonetheless above water at 8-7-1. The Canucks are 9-6 and the Oilers are 8-6-1.

The Leafs will have a better idea of what they have when they come home to once again play the Boston Bruins on Monday. A game every second day for three straight contests can fray or harden a thin lineup.

Curtis Joseph will no doubt play this week. Joseph played well in his last game but he has a 3.81 goals against average and a poor .862 save percentage. Four games is an awfully small sampling but a good performance by Joseph would reinforce the notion the Leafs have an adequate back-up.

The line of Grabovski, Hagman and Kulemin has been absolutely dominant. Can they keep it going when Mike Keenan, Craig MacTavish and Alain Vigneault use last change to garner the most advantageous matchup?

Coach Ron Wilson, revels in playing tired, playing outside your time zone, winning on the road.

We are about to learn a lot more about the Leafs in the crucible that is the road. Is their early success an aberration? What kind of internal leadership has been generated in the void created by Mats Sundin’s departure? Is Vesa Toskala better than his 3.08 goals against average and .884 save percentage?

The next week will tell much. I can’t wait to find out.
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