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Leafs Get the Toques Out For Outdoor Practice

Monday, 02.11.2008 / 1:59 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Leafs Get the Toques Out For Outdoor Practice
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Max White could not hide the tear that sat high up on his cheek.

Monday morning, along with his Mom and brother Jack, he had raced across Withrow Park in Toronto’s east side and just caught a few moments of the Leafs outdoor practice. The boys had  been in recess at nearby Withrow Public School  when their Mom grabbed them out of school and they galloped through the crusty snow to get a glimpse of the Leafs.

Some 250 schoolkids from Pape Avenue and Leslieville Junior Public watched the Leafs practice at a recently refurbished Withrow Park Rink in East Toronto, but their cheers would bring no more compelling evidence of the appeal of the event than that solitary tear borne by Max White.

A Grade 6 student at Withrow Public School, Max is a fan of Boyd Deveraux. “He tries really hard every time he goes out there,” he said.

That’s a style Max has adopted as a rightwinger and centreman for his Leaside team and Max will have a puck, quickly scurried up by Maple Leafs staff, for his trouble.

There will be many more tears at Withrow Park. Yesterday’s wind chill was officially recognized as something near the minus-20 mark, although the shelter of the city made the weather actually quite passable.  One of the side effects of playing outdoors is a tear, the kind that comes from a raw wind, frozen to the cheek.

Still, with a good cause, raucous music, brilliant sunshine and hundreds of screaming kids, Withrow Park was the place to be.

“By the time you get on the ice you realize the players are the ones having all the fun,” said Leafs coach Paul Maurice who presided over a loose scrimmage.

The event allowed the Maple Leafs and partner Home Depot to showcase upgrades and improvements made to five Riverdale Area Rinks as part of the Hockey Rink Legacy Program. The Withrow Park rink was sparkling with new boards and a refurbished dressing room and some of the best ice the players will see all year long.

Toronto native Matt Stajan was a regular outdoor rink user as a kid. As he marched back to the team bus, still in skates in full equipment, the sensations - arctic chill braced against a steady sweat - came rushing back.

“I had forgotten that feeling of taking off your skates when your feet and your fingers are frozen,” he said.

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