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Players fighting for their NHL lives

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Heading into the second season of Leafs TV, anchor Brian Duff knows what's happening in Leafland on a daily basis. You can watch Brian hosting pre and postgame shows on Leafs TV for all the breaking news surrounding the Blue and White.

by Brian Duff

As Leafs training camp continued in Hamilton last week, I was struck by a quote delivered by Maple Leaf hopeful but most certainly "Rock" bound winger Craig Mills.

Jamie Hodson is making a case for moving up the depth chart.
Graig Abel Photography
Having spent last season in St. John's, Mills shared to my colleague Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post that, "They (Newfoundlanders) truly live by the motto, 'If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.' "

Not only was that a great quote at a time of year when great ones are few and far between, but it made me think about just how tough it is for players like Mills and others to smile right now.

With a maximum of 23 big league jobs to be filled, more than 50 players in camp, and realistically only two or three spots available, the odds are not in favour of many of these players being happy at month's end. And the guy in the stall next to them isn't likely to be all that comforting.

Still, we have seen many smiles along the way so far.

Ric Jackman levelled Nik Antropov in the first period of the first scrimmage game, leaving those in the organization who pushed to acquire the former Dallas prospect from Boston in May beaming.

Antropov returned (insert happy face here) that same scrimmage to collect points and eventually finish in the top five in mini-tournament scoring. Aside from a dreadful outing by all on Friday (a 7-1 loss in Ottawa), Antropov appears ready to force the Leafs into a tough decision prior to the waiver draft.

Jamie Hodson was the best goalie in the tournament, a star in the Blue and White game, then more than solid in his first preseason appearance vs. Ottawa, stopping 14 of 15 shots. All this from someone not expected to factor even into the St. John's equation.

Carlo Colaiacovo was grinning from ear to ear in front of family and friends when he scored the game's opening goal Sunday. The 2001 first-round pick was "given" that game by coach Pat Quinn as somewhat of a bonus for his solid contributions in what is really his first pro camp. Now, he's made the coach think about playing him again.

And Aaron Gavey scored in three of the four tournament games, then tallied again in the Blue and White game. The free agent acquisition from Minnesota was looking like a real threat to fill one of the forward spots, especially with Gary Roberts out indefinitely.

But things may have changed for the Sudbury native after the weekend. The Friday debacle didn't help anyone's cause. While on Sunday, Gavey was one of just three players to be given an immediate second chance.

Expected to play on the left side of Darcy Tucker and Tom Fitzgerald, Gavey's ice time was cut short due to nearly 20 power plays in the game. He was barely seen in the second period, and during a four-on-four Gavey watched from the bench as Tucker and Fitzgerald set up Colaiacovo's tally. Gavey must have wondered why it couldn't have been five-on-five.

As the night progressed, Tie Domi would score twice. But when interviewed afterwards, he directed his thoughts towards the youngsters, like his linemate Luca Cereda, and Colaiacovo.

"It's nice to score, but it's nicer to see the kids with smiles on their faces. "

There's that word smile again.

Perhaps Gavey's grin has subsided for the time being. But the 28-year-old should have more games to prove his worth. Then again, so too will Alexei Ponikarovsky, Paul Healey, Bob Wren, and Antropov.

I'd like to include Mills in that group but coach Quinn has all but spelled out his destination this year. At least we know that he'll end up in a place he seemed to thoroughly enjoy last year.

As for the others, one can only hope that Newfoundlanders continue to live by their motto, and that there are more than enough smiles to go around.

For more inside information on the team from Brian Duff, tune into Leafs TV, the only channel dedicated to covering one team all the time.

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