TORONTO – For a brief moment, Michael Liambis wasn’t sure what to do.
Participating in the opening scrimmage at the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp on Saturday, he saw teammate Carl Gunnarson get hit from behind by Jay Rosehill. The players had been instructed not to fight in camp, but Liambis decided to drop the gloves anyway.
“We all got the red light, we all got talked to before that there’s no fighting and stuff,” said Liambis. “But Gunner kind of got run a little from behind in the boards, and it’s kind of my job—I don’t know what it is, just with me you’ve got to protect your teammates, they’re your brothers and family—I didn’t really know what to do.
“I kind of held off for a bit and I guess it was time.”
Liambis held his own against Rosehill, who is six inches taller and no stranger to fighting. They traded punches for about 15 seconds while teammates looked on.
Despite instructing the players not to fight, Leafs coach Ron Wilson didn’t mind seeing Liambis and Rosehill go at it.
“Nobody got hurt and it showed that we’re pretty intense in practice,” he said. “For some guys they have to do it in a scrimmage because they’re not going to get into exhibition games.”
Liambis could certainly fall into the category. The 21-year-old was extended a tryout for last week’s Leafs rookie tournament and ended up being a late addition to the main training camp.
He’s hoping to move forward with his career after being suspended for the remainder of the Ontario Hockey League season following a hit last October on Kitchener’s Ben Fanelli, who suffered a fractured skull. He hasn’t returned to the Rangers.
It’s an incident Liambis knows will follow him through hockey—and one in which he’s repeatedly expressed remorse for. In the aftermath, he briefly considered the possibility that he might be done with hockey before “kicking it right back out” of his mind.
The five-foot-nine forward was never drafted by an NHL team and likely isn’t in the mix to earn a spot with the Leafs this season.
“He’s a very long shot, let’s put it that way,” said Wilson. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him, he pays attention, he works in practice and he’s been physical without going over the top.”
There’s a possibility Liambis might earn a spot in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies. If not, he’ll find somewhere else play.
“There’s some options, yeah,” said Liambis. “We’ll see what happens. I’m not trying to think about any of that stuff right now. I’m here, I’m in the moment and I’m going to do as best as I can.”