Instead of focusing on the Toronto Maple Leafs 0-6-1 start, Ron Wilson decided to have a little more fun with his club at Wednesday’s practice.
The head coach took his team to the National Training Rink, owned by former Leaf Mike Gartner in Richmond Hill, Ontario and held a three-on-three tournament between the 22 players.
Wilson saw holding the tourney as a way of the Leafs taking a breather while doing something competitive at the same time.
“I know it’s hard for people to understand when we haven’t won a game that you’re actually considering having fun,” he said.
“But letting the guys relax a little bit, compete at the same time and get a great workout is exactly what the doctor ordered right now.”
The team’s 20 forwards and defencemen were split into four teams of five, with goaltenders Joey MacDonald and James Reimer taking turns in net after each game.
In the end, team blue, comprised of Francois Beauchemin, Lee Stempniak, Garnet Exelby and Luke Schenn emerged victorious in the finals.
“This was a surprise to us,” Schenn said of the tournament. “We came to the rink this morning expecting to practice.
“It was a lot of fun and actually got more intense towards the end.”
While his dodgeball experiment last Thursday was a hit with the players as well, Wilson knows there is still plenty of work to do for a Leafs squad that tied the 1990-1991 club for the worst start in franchise with its 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday.
“The guys worked really hard on Monday and Tuesday with physical drills and today, backed off a little bit and had some fun,” he said. “Tomorrow, back to the physicality again.”
So far, Toronto has surrendered the opening goal in each of its first seven games. The team’s problem has been compounded by an inability to put the puck in the net, as the Leafs have just 14 goals, third fewest in the league.
Despite the initial struggles, John Mitchell, who has yet to score after registering 12 goals in his rookie campaign, says he and his teammates must stick to their specific roles if they are to garner their fist win.
“Sometimes, it’s doing things you normally wouldn’t do and trying to do someone else’s job.” the sophomore centre said.
“That’s one thing you want to focus on is doing your own job and focus on that and the rest of the game should follow and come into play the right way.”
The Leafs will look to begin reversing their early misfortunes this Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks [3-5], the first in a five-game road trip.