Leafs Outdoor Practice a Great Experience for Fans and Players
By: Aaron Greenfield
Following a brutal California road trip that saw the Leafs register a single win, and get outscored 9-1 in their two losses, the Leafs returned home to a local rink in East York for the team’s annual outdoor practice. Before the practice, Leafs alumni Darcy Tucker, Curtis Joseph and Shayne Corson were on hand for the event and even signed a few autographs.
The rink had a great atmosphere of several hundred fans cheering, but Babcock still had the team working hard as if it were any other practice, running powerplay drills, odd-man rushes and a lot of teaching, bringing the players to centre ice multiple times as an entire group to provide further insight.
Thankfully, many of players took time to stop for a second and wave or acknowledge the fans cheering their name. It’s not everyday that most fans are this close to their idols, so it was nice that these players were able to focus on what was really important about today’s practice.
Captain Dion Phaneuf commented on the fans dedication to the team even though the practice was played in conditions feeling like -15C:
“For us to be out here to be able to practice and see the fan turn out, that’s impressive. It’s cold today and they wrapped around the whole building. It’s an honour to be out here to be able to practice in front of our fans outdoors, it’s special to us as players. We enjoyed the day.”
Players that stood out in today’s practice include Frank Corrado, James Reimer and Nazem Kadri.
One could argue that Corrado has been in Babcock’s ‘doghouse’ this season since the Leafs picked him up off waivers from the Canucks but the Leafs coach insists he has a plan for the resilient young defenceman who claims he isn’t bothered by the lack of starts. Today, it seemed like he had an extra jump in his step, while playing hard defence on the likes of Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and others, being aggressive in the crease and battling for loose pucks along the boards. It seems that Corrado has had enough of the press box and is doing everything he can to impress the coach to keep him playing.
Reimer has been battling a nagging groin injury over the past few weeks, which has allowed Jonathan Bernier to creep back into the starting goalie conversation with a string of solid performances.
Reimer looked strong especially playing in the cold weather, moving cross-crease comfortably and playing with poise. He should be good to go for Wednesday against the Blue Jackets.
Nazem Kadri was one of the most snake-bitten players in the league but lately he has shown improvements especially on the scoresheet. The Leafs number one centre has 11 points in his last 11 games and has raised his shooting percentage up to 5.7%. In practice today, he did not miss many of the shots that he took, regardless of which goalie he was shooting. Practice is not always the best indicator of how a player will perform in the game but hopefully the work that Kadri is putting in will help keep his strong play going.
Most importantly, this practice was about the fans. A nice exchange I overheard between a father and his son (who couldn’t have been older than three) went something like this:
Son: *excited as the Leafs begin practicing*
Father: “One day, you can be practicing with the team as a member of the Leafs”
Son: “I’m going to wear #2!”
A nice inspiring moment, which really makes you appreciate the effect this team has on the city of Toronto.
At the conclusion of the practice, all the players stuck around outside at least ten to fifteen minutes after to sign autographs for the fans.
The lucky few went home with items that included Dion Phaneuf’s gloves and Jake Gardiner’s stick. A very nice event overall, and hopefully they continue the tradition next year in another local rink.