Training camp opens with challengers for defenceman spots

(pictured: Dion Phaneuf spoke to the assembled media on Sunday)

Leafs camp opened on Sunday amidst a lot of buzz. Coach Randy Carlyle and his assistants took the troops through a vigorous, high tempo workout at MasterCard Centre that left players gasping for air.

Carlyle gave an update on the status of Jake Gardiner, who suffered a head injury December 8 while playing with the Toronto Marlies. “We’d like the player to be available, but until he’s medically cleared, he’s not even on our radar,” He’s on a separate list. That’s the difficult part of being a coach.”

With the timetable return of Jake Gardiner still uncertain, there will be some challengers for a roster position on the blueline. Marlies players Mark Fraser, Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer are part of the audition, while the Leafs signed defenceman Mike Mottau, a veteran of 313 NHL games with 5 NHL teams (Rangers, Flames, Devils, Bruins, Islanders).

“There’s a lot of good young talent here, “ said Mottau, who has played 16 games this year with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. “I could contribute by being a veteran, keeping things simple, and leading by example – someone that the coaching staff can rely on, and being a well-rounded, responsible player.”

Another newcomer is Morgan Rielly, fresh off his stint with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. The disappointment of the team’s fourth-place finish still lingers, but Rielly – who’d be eligible to play 6 games without burning a year of his entry-level contract – remains focused on trying to land with the big club “I’m only 18 and I’m pretty young,” Rielly said. “Hopefully I can use that to my advantage, if I got the opportunity.“

Rielly isn’t intimidated by the prospect of playing within the confines of a compressed 48-game schedule. “Playing junior hockey, you kind of get used to playing two games in two nights. But I’m pretty young compared to these old guys, so that helps me a little bit.”

The only Leafs player for which a special podium address was reserved was captain Dion Phaneuf. Fresh off a summer spent in California that included his engagement to actress Elisha Cuthbert, Phaneuf stressed the importance of achieving team cohesiveness, given the limited amount of preparation time under the circumstances imposed by the recent lockout.

“Usually during the preseason you’re not playing your full roster until the last 2 or 3 games of the preseason with a regular camp,” said Phaneuf. “With the situation we’re in, you’re going to have to gel quick. We don’t have a lot of new guys in, but the guys that we have brought in have been skating with us. There’s not a lot of time. You’ve got to come together quick and get off on the right foot and win hockey games early.”

Phaneuf feels more than prepared to carry the mantle that comes with the captain’s ‘C’. “I feel very comfortable in this role. We haven’t had success as a team and i definitely take that as part of my job,” he said.

The team will make Monday and Tuesday’s on-ice sessions open to the public.


Camp notes:

Forward practice lines included:
Lupul-Connolly-van Riemsdyk
McClement/Brown – Orr/Steckel

Defence pairings included:

Newly appointed general manager Dave Nonis, gave his opinion on what the team needs to add: “When we look at some of the teams that we have to play against, and how their roster is constructed, it makes it more difficult when you’re battling against teams that are built that way and we’re not able to compete every night in, night out. In terms of skill wise, I like our skill compared to the rest of our conference, I don’t think we have an issue with that. We may just need to get the compete level up and get it up for the whole season.”

Forward Mike Brown has sustained a series of injuries throughout his career, including a groin pull in 2010-11. While the compact schedule is expected to increase the risk of this type of ailment, Brown remains unconcerned. “You’ve got to take care of yourself,” he said. “I’ve had my fair share of injuries, but I can’t think about that right now. I’m 100% and you have to get ready, you have prepare and stay in shape. The injuries you can’t control are out of your hands. You have to play hard, and you have to play smart.”

Phil Kessel was one of the slowest skaters during one of the team’s drills, garnering the following reaction on Twitter:

(Steve Buffery @Beezersun):
This a compltetely (sic) unscientific observation, but Phil Kessel seems to be dragging his ass at the #Leafs camp. At least doing wind sprints

Actually, Phil Kessel is dragging his ass at #Leafs camp. Coach Carlyle can’t be amused #NHL

(Kevin McGran @kevin_mcgran):
Phil Kessel among the Leafs 31 fastest skaters (including goalies)

(Rob Del Mundo @tmlfansrob):
Did Kessel bring on Larry Murphy as a skating coach?

Dion Phaneuf takes the podium:

It was a 113-day delay, but players are finally back:
camp opens

Newcomer James van Riemsdyk (left) lines up with Mike Kostka:
jvr kostka

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at

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