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Lombardi To Make Leafs Debut Tonight

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Jake Gardiner stood in the Maple Leafs dressing room Saturday morning and summed up the life of the star athlete.

He was asked whether he is motivated by a desire to succeed or a fear of failure.

“To succeed I think. I don’t fear failure but it feels good when you make the team and you succeed.”

Seven years and ten thousand light years of experience separate Gardiner from the guy across the room, veteran Matt Lombardi who will play his first game in a year tonight against Detroit.

The kid couldn’t have put it any better were he standing in for the old guy.

Gardiner will play with Mike Komisarek as he continues a remarkable bid to make the team after just 10 Marlies games. In five preseason games, the 22-year-old has logged big time minutes. He has scored one goal, added four assists and sits even in plus/ minus.

Human beings doubt. It’s a natural by-product of intelligence. An aardvark doesn’t’ brood over a bad day at the muskeg.

So imagine Lombardi taking his last baby steps. Imagine Gardiner trying to dodge the last train to the Marlies.

“I think it’s going to be good nerves, excitement,” Lombardi said. “Like I said, it’s been so long and I have been so anxious the last couple of weeks to get things moving along. I think I’m finally there so I can put all the bad stuff being me and move forward.”

Lombardi doesn’t dwell on the bad stuff but it’s no secret that athletes, conditioned to running in the pack, suffer when left behind.

“Any time a hockey player isn’t playing hockey he’s going to be a little depressed,” is the way Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles put it.

The same goes for making their team of choice. Gardiner has only been cut by one team in his life, he missed his first try at the World Junior US squad. Lombardi, meanwhile, was coming off his best NHL season and had just signed a heady free agent contract with Nashville when he tumbled into the boards and into Neverland.

Thanks to a minor injury to Tim Connolly, Lombardi’s audition will be with the dangerous Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.  Even if he isn’t yet in game shape, the fleet Lombardi should keep up just fine and he gives the Leafs a relevant talent should Connolly stumble.

“I’m not expecting a lot,” Wilson said. “He hasn’t played in a year and he has to deal with a few things. He has practiced really hard for the last 10 days and the last week had physical contact. Game speed is entirely different thing.”

Lombardi will skate out anxious for contact. More than any other night, he will work on being the hammer, not the nail.

“For sure, I just to get that confidence and get those first few bumps out of the way,” he said.

Notes: The Leafs are waiting to get the verdict in a hearing involving winger Clarke MacArthur. MacArthur bumped with Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader in Detroit on Friday. The hit looked significantly less violent than the one delivered by Ottawa Senator Chris Neil earlier this week. Neil escaped sanction...James Reimer gets the start tonight and is expected to play the entire night. Wilson spent the plane ride from Detroit huddling with General Manager Brian Burke over the lineup. “It’s like a puzzle, you can put the puzzle together but we haven’t cemented it. Unless someone shakes the table.”
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