Leafs return to practice, but short on players for a game – Toronto Sun

Author of the article:

Lance Hornby

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares (left) tries to get around teammate Mitch Marner (right) during a three-on-three drill. Sixteen players were at their first practice after the Western road trip that saw COVID numbers soar  in Toronto.
Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares (left) tries to get around teammate Mitch Marner (right) during a three-on-three drill. Sixteen players were at their first practice after the Western road trip that saw COVID numbers soar in Toronto. Photo by Jack Boland /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

The Maple Leafs hope to have enough healthy bodies to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and that’s if the NHL resumes play.

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As all league teams resumed practice Sunday afternoon from an elongated Christmas break brought on by a swath of COVID-19 infections, Toronto had 11 forwards, five defencemen and two goalies at the Ford Performance Centre. But while captain John Tavares was the first of 14 Leafs on the COVID-19 protocol list to be activated and general manager Kyle Dubas confirmed Mitch Marner appears to be getting fast-tracked off the Long Term Injury Reserve because the Leafs lost five games during his recovery from shoulder surgery, many Leafs are still out.

Both starting goalies, Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, are missing, as are top defencemen Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie, along with forward William Nylander.

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Dubas expects forwards Alex Kerfoot, Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds to be cleared by Monday. Coach Sheldon Keefe and assistant Spencer Carbery are also sidelined for now, with other assistants Dean Chynoweth and Manny Malholtra running Sunday’s 75-minute workout. It the Leafs first since being shut down more than a week earlier, though the two coaches could be back on ice by Tuesday. There were other Leafs’ off-ice staffers placed on the list as well.

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Dubas was awaiting direction from the league on Sunday after Monday’s games were scrubbed, including Toronto at Columbus. The Pittsburgh game at Scotiabank Arena is Toronto’s next likely contest.

“It all depends on (who is good to practice Monday), but I don’t believe we’d have enough defencemen to play and also be short one goalie,” Dubas said. “It was good to see Mitch out there today, but he’s not a player we would rush along.”

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Complicating matters is that the farm team Marlies have 24 players and five staffers in protocol, limiting whom the Leafs can activate.                       “Notwithstanding news on (the league allowing) a taxi squad, we don’t have any contracted players we can call up to meet the (game) requirement,” Dubas said. “I think we’d be okay for Wednesday, maybe (play) one or two short. But the game’s on our schedule and we have to prepare like we’re going to play.”

The Leafs, one of the league’s worst COVID case teams, began Sunday adding Muzzin to protocol. That left 10 regulars on the ice among an at-large group of 16; Tavares, Marner, Auston Matthews, Michael Bunting, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Pierre Engvall, Kyle Clifford, Alex Steeves and defencemen Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren. Brett Seney and Joey Anderson augmented the forwards, Filip Kral, Carl Dahlstrom and Alex Biega on the blue line. In net were the Marlies’ Joeseph Woll and Ian Scott, who is not officially cleared from an earlier injury.

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“I’ve checked on everybody in protocol and everyone seems to be doing well,’ Dubas said. “ Some had symptoms at the beginning right after testing positive, whether it was night sweats, chills, sore throat, cough and one with loss of taste. Thankfully, all came through without long-term effect.”

Dubas said it was a major headache to get the group of Leafs who’d tested positive on the Western road trip home from Vancouver after the team’s plane departed Dec. 18. The Leafs had set up a flight with a company that agreed to take positive-case players the next day and had been open about their condition, only to have one of the pilots back out at the last second because he wasn’t comfortable. Team doctor Noah Forman used a connection in the medical transport field to arrange a red-eye home.

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“It’s certainly been extraordinarily long days on the phone with our medical team, the league and because it was the holidays, every player seemed to have different circumstances with regards to family, travel and so on,” Dubas said.   “We have a great staff who were checking on everyone to make sure they’re healthy, they have food over the Christmas break. It was also a major challenge being on the road and just playing the one game (in Edmonton on Dec. 14).”

Tavares said he had headaches and body aches at first when testing and lost some taste. When he finally got home, he isolated at his cottage a few days.

“You don’t want to go into protocol, but you also know the world we’ve been in for awhile,” Tavares said. “I just tried to recover as quickly as possible and every day I’ve felt better, got some workouts in. Eight or nine days off and travelling across the country, I knew I’d be feeling it today.”

lhornby@postmedia.com

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