The world is returning to some semblance of normal, which means we can start talking about hockey in non-vague terms and you can start enjoying the most thrilling, captivating game of all: Spot the Typo.
So now, we’re talking training camps. Specifically, the training camp of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs took to camp Monday with the same designs as everyone else. It was important to see where they were, how they looked, how they felt. But it was also important to illustrate that, despite this being no ordinary year, it’s time to get down to business.
“We’ve got competition here for spots,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “To say that we were happy or satisfied with the way we were playing and where we were at as a team before the pause is just not the case. So, we’re challenging our players to push each other.”
To that end, Keefe has turned the scrimmage into somewhat of a battle for supremacy. He’s split his players into two teams, captained by Auston Matthews and goalie Frederik Andersen, and they’re set to rock out a five-game scrimmage series.
Matthews and Andersen were living under the same roof during the pandemic pause, so Keefe’s had some fun marketing it as “A House Divided.”
Things got underway Wednesday, with Toronto gearing up for an exhibition match against the Montreal Canadiens on July 28.
On Wednesday, scrimmages were held to two 20-minute periods with full stoppages and even music playing during the pauses in play – just to gather a feel for the pace and tenor of getting back to hockey. For the record, Andersen’s team scooped the win. The second game of the scrimmage is set for Saturday.
“Guys are taking it serious,” said Kyle Clifford, who skated on Team Andersen. “Maybe there’s not a whole ton of physicality out there, but there’s definitely the mindset that we want to be ready.”
Other squads are not as involved as Toronto, at least not yet. The Columbus Blue Jackets won’t be holding scrimmages until later this week, while other teams have had to struggle against COVID-19 even as they try to open camp. Tampa and Pittsburgh have gone through delays, while key star players haven’t joined their teams yet in other markets.
Whether that will give these Maple Leafs an advantage going into the playoffs remains to be seen, but it has to feel good to get out there and get going all the same. And yeah, it feels good to talk puck again.
Image: Canadian Press/Chris Young