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Positives Abound In Latest Pre-season Win

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs were 5-4 winners over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. The comeback win was their fourth game in as many nights to start the pre-season and improved their record to 3-1.

What does it mean?

It’s a legitimate question. With an 82-game campaign and a four-round playoff marathon between the beginning of the season and the Promised Land, how important are nine games in September?

Well, since they throw the record out come October 1, there is probably more on the line than you think.

First, the Leafs continue to scrap at a moment’s notice. Garnet Exelby drew one of four fighting majors. In the Philly game. The team incurred eight roughing penalties. That means 13 of the club’s 16 penalties came from someone throwin’ them.

The result, everyone seems to agree, is good.

“We have guys sticking up for each other,” Exelby said. “Eventually you will have everybody walking an inch taller and playing bigger and with more confidence.”

Then there are individual stories. Niklas Hagman scored twice for the Maple Leafs. Lost in all the losing and storylines last year was Hagman's solid season.

Relentlessly competitive, Hagman scored 22 goals, just three shy of team leader Jason Blake. Hagman suffered two concussions, the second on a savage elbow from the Islanders Brendan Witt. So one of the subplots of the fall sked is Hagman’s return.

“I played the world championships after the season,” he said. “That gave me the confidence that everything was all right with my head. I played seven or eight games at the end of the year. Having a couple of concussions, it was good that I played those games so I didn’t have to go through the whole summer thinking ‘is everything all right?’”

Coach Ron Wilson insisted that the pre-season had merit, especially for a team finding a whole new identity.

“You build up a feeling that you can win, even if they are exhibition games. If we can build a little bit of momentum, at least we will know what we feel like and we will act accordingly.”

The pre-season also allows players to grasp new concepts. Look no further, Wilson said, than goalie Vesa Toskala, last night’s winning netminder. Toskala is working with new coach Francois Allaire, the guru of goalie coaches and the pace of change, Wilson insists, has been dizzying.

“He’s going through a transition because he has to change a lot of things,” Wilson said. “Francois is teaching him how to work smart in practice and the importance of the warmup. There are a thousand things that might be confusing to Vesa, but I think it’s going to pay dividends in another couple of weeks.”

Also scoring for the Leafs were Matt Stajan and Francois Beauchemin.

The Leafs’ next game is Wednesday against Pittsburgh at Air Canada Centre.

After the game, the Leafs announced the demotion of 17 players to the Marlies. Those players include defenceman Phil Oreskovic, Darryl Boyce, Tom Galvin, Kyle Rogers, James Reimer, Robert Slaney and Mikhail Stefanovich.

The Marlies also sent defenseman Jesse Blacker back to the OHL Windsor Spitfires. Also heading back to junior are Joel Champagne (PEI, QMJHL) and Brandon Manning (Chilliwack, WHL).

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