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.

Catching up: December 16th – the Maple Leafs fall to Calgary in overtime 6-5 … December 19th – defenseman Nathan Dempsey was dispatched to St. John’s despite some very solid play in 8 games with the team … the move was made in order to maintain optimum roster flexibility as waivers would have been required in order to return Dempsey to the Rock following 10 NHL starts … rookie Petr Svoboda is recalled in order to fill Dempsey’s spot and produces decidedly mixed results in the ensuing games … December 20th – the Leafs are stoned by Mike Dunham and fall to Nashville at home 3-1 … December 21st – Boston shuts out Toronto 4-0 and only Tie Domi seems concerned … December 23rd – the Leafs provide their fans with the only gift of the Christmas season with a convincing 5-2 victory over the Habs in Montreal … December 26th – rookie goaler Milan Hnilicka backstops the Thrashers to a 5-3 win over Toronto in Atlanta … December 27th – the Maple Leafs send a belated Christmas gift to NHL headquarters at Mario Lemieux’s homecoming party by neglecting to defend against the superstar in any meaningful way as the Pens embarrass Toronto 5-0 … December 28th – Captain Sundin calls for a shake-up of his struggling (I would have used a much saltier word) team as many thousands of Maple Leafs fans indicate overwhelming support for such action …

Rumours: When LA’s Rob Blake turned down a final contract extension offer from the Kings last week, the trade stories immediately picked up with the Leafs, Rangers and Flyers all supposedly in the hunt for the former Norris Trophy winner … more recently, reports of a deal with New Jersey involving Scott Gomez and one or more 1st round picks have developed … Toronto could certainly match this offer if a long-term deal with Blake’s representative can be negotiated first … it seems as though something will get done in this regard very soon … things have gotten strangely quiet on the Lindros trade front … Flyers’ Chairman Ed Snyder recently stated that making a deal happen is at the top of his priority list but GM Bobby Clarke seems rather content to sit tight for the time being … rumours concerning Washington’s Peter Bondra and Calgary’s Phil Housley coming to Toronto have died down of late … both Bondra and the Capitals have experienced a sudden resurgence and there is now talk that a contract extension might yet be possible … Housley has been knocked out of the Flames’ line-up with his second concussion of the season and may be sidelined indefinitely … it was hoped that the veteran’s speed, shot, savvy, passing ability and ice vision might just be what the doctor ordered for Toronto’s sickly powerplay unit …

Leafs Trivia I: Everyone knows that Leafs’ captain Mats Sundin currently occupies sweater number 13 – this was also the number that the Swedish star wore in Quebec earlier in his career … only 2 other players have sported this number on behalf of the Maple Leafs … name them (answer below Do you remember) …

News from Sweden: Djurgarden defeated Leksand 3-2 on December 26th at the Globe Arena in Stockholm … this was an ugly game, full of fights and rough play that was hardly in keeping with the spirit of the season … once again, Mikael Tellqvist was a standout stopping 23 of 25 shots and holding Leksand at bay during numerous short handed situations … Djurgarden was far more generous 2 nights later when 5-0 victory was all but handed to rival AIK … no one (including Tellqvist) distinguished themselves in this match as the entire Djurgarden roster seemed as disinterested in competing for the win as the Maple Leafs had in Pittsburgh the previous night … with this loss, Djurgarden slipped to 2nd place in the SEL behind Farjestad though Tellqvist still leads virtually every goaltending statistic by a wide margin …

Leafs Trivia II: Complete this deal … Miroslav Frycer to Detroit on June 10, 1988 in exchange for (answer below Trivia I answer) …

Leafs Trivia III: Only once in the past twenty years have the Maple Leafs’ top 6 Entry Draft selections gone on to eventually wear the fabled blue and white … name both the year and also the six draftees in question (answer below Trivia II answer) …

Prospect news: Here’s a short update on Toronto’s prospects currently playing in the Quebec League … Acadie-Bathurst’s Mirko Murovic has recently returned to action after missing several games due to injury … Murovic’s numbers may seem fairly impressive on a points per game basis (27 points in 22 games) but Mirko continues to have trouble scoring goals – he has only six at this time … Cape Breton blueliner JP Cote has improved markedly over his rookie performance of last year … he has been steady on defense and has scored 22 points (5-17) in 38 games played … Cote has also posted an impressive +14 thus far … Drummondville goaltender JF Racine has started the lion’s share of his team’s games, sporting a solid 3.26 GAA and recording 1 shutout … fellow netminder Sebastien Centomo has appeared in 28 games for Rouyn-Noranda, posting a 3.78 GAA and 3 shutouts … a bit farther out to the east, Alyn McCauley is still having some trouble finding the net but does have 10 points in his first 9 AHL games and is said to be playing very well … much traveled defender David Cooper has also been red hot for St. John’s of late and now stands 4th in team scoring with 21 points …

Who am I: I was acquired by the Maple Leafs in 1980/81 following NHL stints in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles … I played my junior hockey with the old Hamilton Red Wings of the OHA … I am the only current NHL General Manager to have once played goal for Toronto (answer below Trivia III answer) …

Prospect thumbnail – Shawn Thornton (D/W): Drafted from the Peterborough juniors by the Maple Leafs with the 190th selection in 1997, Shawn has now completed 3 full seasons in St. John’s and is currently regarded as a team leader with the Baby Leafs … there is very wide consensus concerning Thornton’s assets as a player – focussed, highly competitive, team oriented and very hard working … though Shawn has seldom threatened opposing goaltenders during his brief AHL career, he has routinely threatened just about everyone else on the ice … an accomplished pugilist who is always ready to protect smaller team mates from harm, the Oshawa native could conceivably get into Toronto’s line-up quickly if anything were to keep resident policeman Tie Domi out of action for an extended period of time …

Do you remember: Rich Chernomaz …

Trivia I answer: Sundin’s number 13 was previously worn in Toronto by ex-Portland junior star Ken Yaremchuk and Kenny “Rat” Linesman …

Trivia II answer: In his very first official player acquisition, Leafs’ rookie GM Gord Stellick pried blueliner Darren Veitch away from the Red Wings in this pre-draft transaction … Veitch, a former stand-out with the Regina Pats of the WHL and a 1st round selection by the Capitals in 1980, had scored an NHL career high 58 points for Detroit only 2 seasons earlier … Veitch would remain with the Toronto organization for 3 seasons – though mainly with the AHL’s Newmarket Saints …

Trivia III answer: Toronto’s scouting staff enjoyed perhaps their finest hour in 1987 at the “Joe” in Detroit … the Maple Leafs’ first six selections that year were Luke Richardson (7th), Daniel Marois (28th), John McIntyre (48th ), Joe Sacco (71st), Mike Eastwood (91st) and Damian Rhodes (112th) … Marois and McIntyre (who were quite possibly the best 2 picks in this group) both had their NHL careers shortened prematurely due to injury but each of the other 4 players have enjoyed long NHL tenures …

Who am I answer: Jimmy Rutherford completed the 1980/81 campaign with the Maple Leafs and spent the following 2 seasons in the minors before retiring in 1983 … following his playing days, Rutherford became involved with hockey management, first with the Detroit Compuware organization and more recently with Hartford/Carolina in the NHL …

Leftovers: I’m certainly glad that I wasn’t forced to put out a column last week – I’m afraid that there wouldn’t have been many kind words for the Leafs following some extremely disappointing performances against Long Island, Calgary, Nashville and Boston which were then followed by a collective late start in Atlanta and a virtual “no hitter” thrown at Pittsburgh – something tells me that they’ll be regretting all of these charitable acts come April … interesting to hear Bob Clarke recently quoted as saying that former coach Roger Neilson went “funny” following cancer treatments last year and therefore could not be returned to his bench duties – Clarke apparently then added that “we never asked him to get cancer” – what a super guy … nice to seen Daniel Marois’ name popping up in the Team Canada scoring summaries from the Spengler Cup this week – Marois currently plays for Ambri Piotta in the Swiss League – he almost certainly would have achieved significant stardom in Toronto if lingering back and knee injuries hadn’t robbed him of his top gear and utter fearlessness in driving to the net …

Sincere thanks to European corespondent, Jan Buben, for his weekly updates from Sweden and elsewhere.

Welcome back to Hockey’s Future everyone. We’re turning the corner into 2001 and the coming year promises to be a very exciting and eventful one for all Toronto hockey fans. Be certain to catch it all here every week.