Sunday, September 17, 2006
It was just an intersquad scrimmage, but the Ricoh Coliseum was packed with fans who weren't disappointed by the show that was the annual Blue and White game.
Team White's Colin Murphy, the sixteenth shooter in an overtime thriller that ended in a shootout, finally ended the game with a great deke beating Justin Pogge five-hole. Murphy wasn't the only young guy to perform heroics on the day. John Pohl, Andy Wozniewski and Jeremy Williams did the scoring for Team White, while Jiri Tlusty, this year's first round draft pick, scored for Team Blue along with two from Erik Westrum.
"It was exciting, not only to practice but to be able to put it into some sort of game situation," said Westrum. "It was a fun atmosphere that the Leaf fans bring."
Mats Sundin and the Leafs start the preseason Monday night.
The game's proceeds went to two good causes, Ronald McDonald House and the Leafs Fund, raising more than $65,000. The full house was responsible for the big cheque that was presented prior to the game.
"You can bring your family down, it's a Sunday afternoon and it's one of those games where you can bring the young kids down," said Darcy Tucker about the full house. "It was nice to have one of those games where it was really exciting."
Adding to the excitement was the fact that everyone cheered for both teams - since it's hard to choose sides when all the players are part of your favourite team.
"I thought it was a fantastic game," said Jay Harrison, one young blueliner vying for an open spot on the Leafs roster. "It was fast, overtime, extra time in the shootout, so what more do you want? I think the crowd really liked it and we really love the energy they brought."
Even veterans like Bryan McCabe were impressed with the crowd, though he wasn't surprised.
"We've got the best fans in the world," said McCabe. "To sell out a building for a Blue and White game is pretty fun for us. Obviously there were a lot of kids out there today so we put on a pretty good show."
There was definitely a competitive edge to the game as players battled in the corners and drove hard to the net, all to impress the new coach, Paul Maurice who watched from up high in the press box.
"If each guy bets five bucks on the game they will kill each other for it and yes it's just an intersquad game but there got to be a contest out there," said Maurice. "That's where you really start to see them compete and I liked the competition level."
"I think the guys tried to put on the best effort they could tonight," said Tucker. "It was just a fun atmosphere all around the rink. Now it's down to work though, now we start playing against other teams and we can make sure that we get our intensity and our pace revved up."
If the Blue and White game is any indicator of what's to come in the preseason, there should be lots more high tempo, high energy games to come starting on Monday against the Buffalo Sabres.