The Weekend Warrior

By Randy Nicholson

Another in a series of weekly articles summarizing activity in Leafland during the previous 7 days – with some personal observations, commentary, prospect updates and fun thrown in for good measure.

The final cuts: The Maple Leafs pared their roster down to the required 23 healthy bodies on the October 2nd deadline by assigning defensemen D. J. Smith and Nathan Dempsey along with forward Jeff Farkas to St. John’s of the AHL … all three players performed well in camp and are considered to be viable call-up options should the Leafs run into any injury problems later on … when newly acquired Bryan McCabe officially arrived from Chicago later in the week, the team was once again over the roster limit and therefore forced to demote one more player … Adam Mair was ultimately selected, not because he hadn’t clearly played his way onto the team this fall, but simply because he was one of the few remaining players not subject to league waivers prior to a minor league assignment … Mair shouldn’t get too used to life on the Rock as he’ll undoubtedly be back as soon as the Leafs move out an extra veteran or two … this could happen very soon …

Svoboda back quickly: Many suspected that Petr Svoboda wouldn’t be staying in St. John’s very long, given the enormous promise that he had displayed at Training Camp … as it turned out, Svoboda’s first visit to the Newfoundland capital lasted only 3 hours … in a surprising turn of events, Petr will now make his NHL debut on opening night after all … don’t be too surprised if Svoboda quickly becomes a fixture on the Toronto blueline and stays there for many years to come …

Leafs Trivia I: The Maple Leafs have only retired 2 sweater numbers in their long and storied history (#5 for Bill Barilko and #6 for Ace Bailey) … there are 4 other “honoured” sweater numbers presently hanging from the rafters at the Air Canada Center … name these numbers and the 8 players that they represent (answer below Whatever happened to) …

Leafs Trivia II: Complete this deal … Randy Wood and Benoit Hogue to the Dallas Stars on January 28, 1996 in exchange for (answer below Trivia I answer) …

Who am I: I was the last Toronto Maple Leaf to lead the entire NHL in scoring (answer below Trivia II answer) …

Who’s in goal?: With scheduled #1 goaltender Jimmy Waite currently on the shelf with a vertigo-like illness, the goaltending duties in St. John’s (at least for now) will be shared by AHL vet Mike Minard and WHL grad Jamie Hodson … early season gams will be especially important for Hodson who is looking to separate himself from the sudden glut of young keepers in the Toronto system …

Aucoin rumours persist: Stories continue to circulate that the Leafs are in serious discussions with the Canucks on a trade involving Adrian Aucoin … Aucoin is a 27 year-old defender who possesses one of the hardest point shots in the NHL and also specializes in anchoring the powerplay … Howard Berger, of the FAN590 radio in Toronto, cites sources close to both teams as saying that a deal could be finalized before the weekend … Berger also reports that the Canucks would be interested in receiving one of the younger Maple Leafs in return for Aucoin while another source has the Leafs using Igor Korolev and Nathan Dempsey as bait …

Prospect news: Toronto’s player development plans for 2000 / 2001 certainly took a major hit when Swiss center Luca Cereda’s season was wiped out by a congenital heart problem … in many ways, Cereda had been the most outstanding youngster at a camp that was full of them … the good news is that Luca will return to the Maple Leafs suffering no ill effects next year – in fact, his stamina should be better than it has ever been before … in other positive news for Maple Leafs’ faithful, last June’s 1st and 2nd choices (Brad Boyes and Kris Vernarsky) are both off to strong starts for their respective OHL sides … Swedish goalie Mikael Tellqvist is also playing very well for defending league champion Djurgarden, although the team is struggling to score goals … he continues to display a rare ability to stop penalty shots (which, of course, is how tie games are decided in the SEL) …

New website for St. John’s: The Baby Leafs this week unveiled their new and improved website … you can check it out at http://www.sjmapleleafs.nf.ca/ …

Prospect thumbnail – Jan Sochor (RW): Sochor was the Leafs 6th Round selection at the 1999 Entry Draft … hailing from Usti nad Labem (in the northern part of the Czech Republic), Jan left home to begin his senior hockey career in Prague as a 17 year-old … his first team, Slavia Prague, often provides opportunities to young players as it cannot afford to pay for the more established ones … during his first season (1997/98), Jan played in 14 games scoring one goal and one assist … a year later, as an 18 year-old, Jan appeared in almost all of the team’s games and impressed many Czech experts – 47 games, 10 goals, 11 assists, 14 penalty minutes … Sochor was clearly becoming one of the most promising young players in the Czech Elite League at that time … unfortunately, Slavia is perhaps not the best team for junior age players … at a time when he needed patience and time to improve, Jan was forced to accept a great deal of responsibility for team success and was pushed him into a position that not many young players are ready to fill … the team struggled and eventually Jan also started to struggle as well … at the Junior World Championship in Sweden last year, Jan played in all 7 games, did not record a goal or an assist, managed only one shot on goal and was essentially invisible … during the remainder of the CEL season, Sochor’s results showed little improvement from the previous season – 39 games, 7 goals and 11 assists and 48 penalty minutes … this past summer, Jan signed a new contract with Vsetin, a team that has won 5 Czech Championships during the last 6 seasons … Vsetin´s roster is dotted with familiar names – Roman Cechmanek (a Flyers goaltending prospect), Martin Prochazka (who played in Toronto and Atlanta), Pavel Patera (now auditioning in Minnesota) and Jiri Dopita (chased unsuccessfully on more than one occasion by the Florida Panthers) … Sochor has earned the spot on the team, but is not currently getting much ice time and is limited mainly to fourth line play … he seems to be developing into a very solid two way winger … with respect to a future career in North America, Vsetin has traditionally been very successful in keeping its players at home … if Jan establishes himself as a core player, which is also easily possible, there will not be much incentive to leave as Vsetin pays its players very well … at this time, his long term value to the Toronto organization seems questionable at best …

Whatever happened to: Chris Bogas …

Trivia I answer: Toronto’s honoured sweater numbers are #1 (for Walter “Turk” Broda and Johnny Bower), #7 (for Frank “King” Clancy and Tim Horton), #9 (for Charlie Conacher and Ted “Teeder” Kennedy) and #10 (for Syl Apps and George “Chief” Armstrong) … it is widely expected that #27 will soon be added to this list in honour of Leaf greats Frank Mahovlich and Darryl Sittler …

Trivia II answer: In what had by then become an endless quest to acquire the players needed to push an aging team over the top before it was too late, the Leafs brought reliable pivot Dave Gagner on board for the stretch run in 1995/1996 … Gagner certainly made a contribution, scoring 22 points in 28 games, but couldn’t prevent the team from being swept aside by St. Louis in the Conference Quarter-finals … Dave’s stay in Toronto was a very short one … forced to cut the team’s bloated payroll, Cliff Fletcher dealt Gagner to Calgary at the 1996 Entry
Draft only months after acquiring him …

Who am I answer: Gordie Drillon emerged from the minor hockey system in Moncton, New Brunswick to become a leading contributor for the Maple Leafs in the late 1930’s … he led the league in scoring with 52 points during the 1937 / 1938 season, a full 10 years before the Art Ross Trophy was initially awarded to the annual NHL scoring leader …

Many thanks to Jan Buben for the in-depth information that he regularly supplies to this column on Maple Leafs’ prospects playing in Europe.

The regular season is finally here – watch for regular updates on all Toronto personnel (whether playing in the NHL, the minors or elsewhere) here at your headquarters for Maple Leaf news and views – Hockey’s Future