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Reconfigured Leafs Ready To Start Season

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

In a packed Leafs dressing room, 21-year-old rookie Jake Gardiner was preparing for the game he will remember, even if plays a thousand more.

“Look at this place,” he said as the Leafs prepared for tonight’s home opener against the Montreal Canadiens. Dozens of media were crammed into a room about a quarter the size of a basketball court.

“I walked in and it was just crazy,” he said. ”I’m glad I arranged for my parents and my girlfriend to be here. This is a night I am going to remember for the rest of my life.”

Leafs coach Ron Wilson recollected his first game, 34 years ago.

“My first game wasn’t the home opener against the Montreal Canadiens, it was a game against Vancouver” said Wilson, underscoring the importance of Gardiner’s debut. “March 6, 1978. It was just a ho-hum game, a goal and an assist. Everything went downhill from there.”

Earlier, Leaf alumni Mark Osborne walked into Air Canada Centre's media room and remarked on the high temperatures that came with the Leafs game day.

“Great golf weather,” he said.

And that friends is as much as we are going to talk about golf for a long, long time.

The Leafs will be without Tim Connolly, who is sidelined by an upper body injury. “It’ll be day to day,” Connolly said. “I just have to wait it out and get back as soon as possible.”

Wilson said if Connolly wanted back in he would be welcome to play Saturday against Ottawa but with a week before the Leafs play again after the Senators contest, it’s a safe bet that Connolly won’t be back until Game three.

That puts Tyler Bozak back between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Bozak played there last season but he will slip down to the third line when Connolly returns.

With Clarke MacArthur serving the first of a two-game regular-season suspension, rookie Matt Frattin will be moved up to play with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. He has one NHL game under his belt, the season finale last year.

The third unit will feature newly-acquired David Steckel on the left side. He will wear number 20 with Pascal Dupuis and Colby Armstrong. Matt Lombardi will be eased into his first regular season game in a year with Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill.

“This is awesome, I can’t say enough good things,” said Lombardi, a bilingual Montrealer and favourite of the media corps from both cities.

This summer, Lombardi did not know if he would ever play again because of the devastating effects of a concussion he incurred in his second and only game with Nashville.

“There are a lot of emotions right now. I’m proud, I’m excited. There just isn’t anything bad to say.”

He’s got a point there. The Leafs are at this writing, unbeaten, with invincible goaltending, an impenetrable defence and unstoppable goalscoring. Things are likely to go a little downhill from here on in.

Wilson said he has the team he wants.

“We all still going to be a work in progress but I’m very content with the group we have.”

Dion Phaneuf will comprise half of the go-to defence pairing with Carl Gunnarsson. Luke Schenn will team with newcomer John-Michael Liles. Mike Komisarek, who re-established his place on the team with a strong training camp, will continue as Gardiner’s on-ice mentor.

Cody Franson will be a scratch. Game time, in case you have forgotten, is 7 p.m.

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