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Baby Leafs Defence Growing Up Quickly

Wednesday, 01.12.2004 / 11:42 PM / News
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Baby Leafs Defence Growing Up Quickly

Play of Buds Blueline Bodes Well for Big Club

December 1, 2004
by Matthew Frost

(TORONTO) -- Sometimes all you need is an opportunity.

While the St. John's Maple Leafs defence may have been considered the team's Achilles heel coming into this season, it looks more and more like the talent on the Baby Leafs' blue line will more than make up for its inexperience. That's good news for Toronto Maple Leaf fans because a foursome of the organization's best prospects have proven to be more than capable of playing some pretty good defence so far this season.

Tellqvist made 32 saves to lead the Baby Leafs to their 13th win of the season.
(Graig Abel Photography)

That was the case again last night as the Baby Leafs D, featuring rookies Andy Wozniewski and Ian White and sophomores Carlo Colaiacovo and Brendan Bell, shook off a shaky first period and rode the goaltending of Mikael Tellqvist to a 4-2 win in front of 9,424 hockey-starved fans at Air Canada Centre.

With the game tied at one heading into the second period, things settled down as the Leafs allowed just four shots on goal in the middle frame despite having to kill off three Binghamton power plays.

"Our guys were pretty nervous in the first period," said head coach Doug Shedden. "I'm not sure if they were looking around to see where their parents and friends were, but they must have found them because we definitely turned it around in the second."

Coming into this season, Shedden had acknowledged more than a few times that his team would need the Baby Leafs "green" defensive corps to step up on a regular basis if the Buds were to have much success. So far, he seems to be more than pleased with their performances, including those of his two rookies.

"I don't know where we would be without White and Wozniewski," he said. "(Marc) Moro is Moro and Carlo is Carlo. You can say the same for Bell. You know you'll get consistent play from them but with the amount of minutes that White and Wozneiwski have eaten up, they deserve a lot of credit."

Offensively speaking it was Jeremy Williams who led the way with a goal and an assist for St. John's, but it was the overall team defence, including Tellqvist, that held the opposition to two goals or less for the sixth time in ten games.

"This year we've tried to talk as much as possible out there," said Tellqvist, who won his sixth consecutive start. "No one ever feels too stressed out and I feel (the defence) has played really relaxed and done a great job so far."

After allowing 26 goals in their first eight games and going 2-5-0-1, the Leafs clamped down after an 8-3 win November 5 against Cleveland, and have surrendered just 27 goals in the 13 games since, winning 11.

"All the guys have taken a front-seat role this year," said Bell of the play of the Leafs' blueline. "Partnerships are starting to develop and guys have really taken it upon themselves to do their job."

Things did get a little tight, however, as Grant Potulny brought Binghamton to within one with a goal at the seven minute mark of the third period. But Tellqvist shut the door with a couple of big saves in the final minutes including one off a Jason Spezza shot late in the third before Clarke Wilm iced the game with an empty-netter with three seconds remaining.

"The defence starts with the goaltending," said team captain Marc Moro. "But definitely our confidence in each other keeps getting better and better and it's starting to show."

The Leafs and Senators hit the ice again on Friday at Air Canada Centre. Game time is 7:30 pm.

Notes:
Brad Leeb was the healthy veteran scratch Wednesday. The AHL allows only five players, per team, to dress each night with over 260 career games played at the AHL/NHL level. St. John's has six players in that category.

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