TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs will be reminded of the franchise’s championship history every time they leave their locker-room at Air Canada Centre.
Images of the Stanley Cup engravings from the club’s glory days have been emblazoned on the inside of the room’s doors. They will serve as a motivation tool for a team that hasn’t been to the post-season since 2004.
“We want to make sure that we don’t lose touch with the past, but we are about the present too,” said head coach Randy Carlyle.
His current squad is a far cry from the powerful lineups that earned Cup victories decades ago. The Maple Leafs haven’t won a title since 1967 and are coming off a disappointing 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Still, optimism reigned Monday as several players got together at the team’s practice facility for a scrimmage and on-ice workout.
They were buoyed by news that a tentative deal was in place to end the lockout and were looking forward to the frenzied pace that a 48- or 50-game season will provide.
“It’s the same kind of mindset as a full season but it’s going to be a little more desperate,” said Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur. “You’ve got to be good right off the bat.”
Earlier, Carlyle was swarmed by a phalanx of media members for a 25-minute availability in an Air Canada Centre hallway. He said players were advised that expectations would include better conditioning, a more responsible defensive attitude and that accountability would be held to a higher level.
“Those are the three things that we left the players with over the course of the summer,” Carlyle said. “And it’s no different now that we’re here in the beginning (of the season).”
A large rock now sits below a shiny new team logo on the Leafs’ locker-room wall, one of several aesthetic changes to the space. Carlyle said the rock—believed to be blue limestone—was brought in from Wiarton, Ont., and symbolizes Toronto’s rock-solid organization.
He hopes the changes instil an even greater sense of pride in wearing the Maple Leaf.
“You have to earn your right to be in here,” he said.
Carlyle, dressed casually in sneakers, jeans and a long-sleeve collared shirt, said it was premature to get into roster specifics. However, he did confirm that newly acquired forward James van Riemsdyk would start out on the left wing instead of centre.
A few kilometres down the road at the MasterCard Centre, players were a smiling, happy bunch as they worked out on the practice ice.
For the most part, it was old-school pond-style hockey with eight to 10 players a side.
There were no referees, no hitting and no slapshots and some players’ gloves didn’t match their socks. The pace was still quite high as players were pleased to get back out on the ice knowing the new season would soon be at hand.
“We’re just excited to be back,” said Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. “I think the biggest thing for us as players is to get back out there and put out the product that the fans love to watch—put a good product on the ice. (The lockout) was a tough situation for everyone but the fans especially suffered through it.
“It’s part of pro sports but we’re going to move on now. It’s in the past and we’re looking forward to getting started.”
Teammates Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly, Phil Kessel and John-Michael Liles were also on hand along with a handful of other NHL players, many of them sporting NHL Players’ Association practice jerseys.
Expectations will be higher in Toronto this year and the pressure will be intense from the start.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Carlyle said. “There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat and a lot of grit and determination that’s going to be expected from our group.”