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Training camp tests players

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

TORONTO - A look of exhaustion coated many familiar faces as the Toronto Maple Leafs opened training camp with medical and fitness testing Thursday at Air Canada Centre.

Everyone from the cagiest veteran to the greenest rookie -- 65 players in all -- went through cardiovascular, strength and stretching exercises to chart how physically prepared they are for the nine-month hockey grind.

"It's nice to get it over with and get to the ice," a sweaty Alyn McCauley told reporters after his grueling workout. "I think you should reward guys who work extremely hard throughout the summer. It's the more difficult choice to spend your time in the gym and pay the price there. It's too easy to go out on the golf course."

Pat Quinn is looking forward to picking his team.
Life as an NHLer is the reward all players pay their dues for, but it doesn't decrease the hurt after a 30-second sprint on the stationary bike, as trainers make peddling progressively harder.

"They don't give you much recovery time," new Leaf forward Tom Fitzgerald said. "It's a nice little gauge to see how the guys keep themselves in shape in the summer. The game has changed a lot since I came in 1988, the only test we got was a physical and then it was 'thanks for coming see you on the ice'."

Despite all the feats of athleticism, GM/coach Pat Quinn received the most attention as he walked into camp looking thin, refreshed and revved up for the coming season. Cleared awhile ago from heart trouble during the playoffs, Quinn declared himself 100 per cent healthy.

"I said I'd never be a fat ex-athlete and I became one," Quinn said. "The challenge is to stick with the healthy (regime). It'll be harder now that we're going on the road. It's going to be a challenge. But I'm going to find a way to do it. I've made up my mind."

Losing 55 pounds has been the result of proper eating and exercising over the past three months. His goal is to reach 215 pounds, close to his playing weight. Once that is accomplished Quinn will have lost nearly 95 pounds from his previous 309-pound frame.

His health aside, Quinn was excited about the prospect of a new season and new challenges facing his team.

"This is one of the great days of the year in hockey because the start is right there staring you in the face. You get a chance to evaluate and pick your team now and gear up for the start of the season."

Despite reports the Leafs squad will likely be the same as it was last year, the GM is keeping an open mind heading into camp. That could be good for youngsters like Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

"I hope I never approach anything predetermined. As you know you have a concept in your mind because you think certain people will be ready at a certain time but that's just a general theory about what happens to youth. It also relates to how good your team is," Quinn said.

"We're going to look very closely at our young guys. We haven't felt there has been a source of supply here as well as it should be and we think the last few years we've got some kids that are good and we hope that they step in."

Tough decisions may come up for the 59-year-old coach in the coming weeks but the job of GM won't hinder any of his player selections, meaning money won't be a factor in determining the team. Players with big contracts won't be handed spots, they will have to work for them.

"We have a responsibility to people that are coming to the games and paying a lot money to watch the games, to try and field the best team possible," Quinn said. "We're not going to make those economic decisions at the cost of having a better team."

Ice and dryland training begins in Hamilton on Friday.
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