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Leafs role players stepping up as injuries mount

Saturday, 04.01.2003 / 12:00 AM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
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Leafs role players stepping up as injuries mount
by Mike Ball

It seems the awful injury bug that has been floating around the basketballers at Air Canada Centre these days has drifted down the hall and found its way to the Maple Leafs dressing room.

In Saturday night's tilt vs. the New Jersey Devils the list of scratches for the Leafs read like the starting lineup may on some nights.

Mats Sundin (shoulder), Shayne Corson (groin), Nik Antropov (upper body), Mikael Renberg (hand), Karel Pilar (ear infection), and of course, their emotional backbone Gary Roberts who is still recovering from a pair of off-season shoulder surgeries are all presently out.

Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, their bench is a whole lot longer than their friends in purple's as they are still managing wins, including the 2-1 triumph Saturday night.

Tucker and Jackman are looking to fill in the gaps through this tough stretch.
Graig Abel Photography
The Leafs' role players stepped up as the defensive-minded Tom Fitzgerald opened the scoring late in the first, his third of the year, and Travis Green followed with his fifth in the third period.

These guys are not goal scorers, but moved into the role with their more offensive-minded mates in the press box. In particular, the line of Fitzgerald, Aaron Gavey and Paul Healey were easily the best of the skaters on both squads in the first period.

"With injuries and guys out, we need guys to step up and I thought Aaron (Gavey) did a real good job of that tonight," said Pat Quinn following the game.

However, Fitzgerald then joined the ranks of the injured as he fell awkwardly in the second frame and did not return. After the game he said that the Devil's Scott Stevens helped him to the ice and as he was falling the winger felt a sharp pain in his ribcage.

"I twisted and felt my ribs a little bit. It was a sharp pain. I'll just take it day-by-day," said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald hinted that he could have returned had the Leafs needed him, but he is indeed listed as day-to-day.

More trouble looked to be looming as Robert Reichel was helped to the dressing room by trainers in the third period with an apparent hand injury, but he would return to action before the game was through.

Quinn explained after the game that all of Sundin, Renberg, Antropov and Corson are now expected to be out for 1-2 weeks with their litany of injuries.

"How many more (injuries) can we sustain and keep on going?" wondered Alyn McCauley following the win. "But if Eddie keeps playing that way, then we can continue to move up the playoff chart. Hopefully in the next week we'll get some guys back."

As McCauley pointed out, the saviour for the Leafs was again goalie Ed Belfour. The Eagle faced a barrage of shots and stopped all but one to make 50 saves. Belfour understands the tough stretch the Leafs are battling through, but knows they have the tools to keep it together.

"There's a lot of character, determination and pride in this (locker) room," said Belfour following the game. "They showed it last year in the playoffs and we're showing it now."

Let's hope all of that pride leads to dedication to rehab and determination to get all the characters back healthy and raring to go.
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