Before taking on the Red Wings to begin the NHL’s Global Series in Sweden, the Maple Leafs must beat the jet lag.
That task started weeks ago in consultation with their sports science staff and goes in effect upon landing in Stockholm early Tuesday afternoon.
They play at 8 p.m. local time Friday with a day off, then 2 p.m. Sunday against the Minnesota Wild. Detroit is already there and working out, with their schedule beginning Thursday versus the Ottawa Senators, the fourth team in the mini-tournament.
“The biggest challenge will be adjusting to the time change,” coach Sheldon Keefe said after Monday’s extended practice that ended with skating drills. “They’ve done a good job of getting us there. I’ve never been in this situation of taking a team overseas, but we have lots of players and staff who have and we’ll be relying on that.
“The first couple of days will be tough, but we’re pretty much going to go from the plane to practice, with a quick stop at the hotel for lunch to help try and keep everybody awake. Then get on Stockholm time (six hours ahead of Eastern) and go from there.”
Keefe was sure the Swedes on the team, forwards William Nylander, Calle Jarnkrok and defenceman William Largesson, would be enthusiastic guides for newcomers.
Keefe and the players did not see this promotional vehicle tour for the NHL as a nuisance or distraction, though that was before they won their last two games to take heat off of themselves.
“It’s not unlike any other road trip,” the coach insisted. “When it’s time to work, it’s time to work.”
The Leafs, who held training camp in Stockholm more than 20 years ago and played exhibition games in Stockholm and Helsinki, Finland, have a huge following there through the late Borje Salming, franchise leading scorer Mats Sundin, while they, Ottawa and Detroit have all had Scandinavian team captains.
KAMPF, KLINGBERG KNOCKED OUT
Keefe said the two absent Leafs at Monday’s practice, centre David Kampf and defenceman John Klingberg, should be good to go once the team settles in Stockholm.
He added a little sarcasm about an unpenalized high check on Kampf in the Vancouver game by Dakota Joshua that sparked a fight.
“Kampf just needs the swelling to go down in his face from the clean hit to the head he took,” Keefe said, though the coach was less forthcoming about why Klingberg missed a second practice, sandwiched around his return to the lineup Saturday after a one-game absence. Keefe has still not remotely defined what “injuries” are hampering the newcomer, who did play better Saturday.
Outside of adding defenceman Conor Timmins to the practice roster, there were no other additions for the trip, other than veteran third goalie Martin Jones from the Marlies, an exception allowed by the league as it’s hard to make a call-up across the ocean. There was no sense in disrupting Swedish rookie Dennis Hildeby, who has had back-to-back shutouts in the AHL.
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TURNING THE CONOR
Timmins would have to be considered ahead of schedule from a late training camp knee injury that Keefe originally said would sideline him week-to-week. Timmins was leading all NHLers in pre-season scoring when hurt.
“It was definitely frustrating, but I bounced back pretty quick from it,” Timmins said after taking body contact Monday. “I’m used to dealing with (injury) adversity. Give yourself a day to sulk and get back to work. I’m hitting gradual milestones and am really happy with the progress. We’re in wait-and-see mode (about playing one of the Stockholm games).”
Simon Benoit is the other defenceman on the trip, having sat on Saturday when Klingberg returned.
The Swedish Leafs had the option of bringing Toronto-based families home with them, but that wasn’t an option for Lagesson. The defenceman’s wife has to stay behind with their nine-month-old baby and look after their dog.
But Lagesson called it “unbelievable timing” to come up from the farm as the Leafs go overseas. His parents and sister are making a three-hour train journey from Gothenburg to see him.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Lagesson said. “They will be super excited to see me there.”
Jarnkrok is from Gavle, two hours north of Stockholm.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun, to go home and play for Swedish fans, my family and friends.”
Nylander was born in Calgary where his father Michael was with the Flames, but is a Swedish national team player. He heads back as NHL third star of the week with seven points, while extending his franchise-record season-opening point streak to 15 games and 18 points, including eight goals. Only six Leafs have ever posted a longer run at any point in a season, though Nylander was not made available to the media on Monday … Joseph Woll and Ilya Samsonov will likely start a game each in Sweden. Samsonov, speaking for the first time in a few days after having had a big bounce-back win Saturday after getting twice lit up by the Lightning, said the key was “don’t think too much,” joking “maybe Tampa Bay is not my team” … Woll, who is letting fans run with the Brick Wall nickname even though it’s a different pronunciation, had a young man actually hand him a brick to sign on Sunday at the Sports Card Expo.
“Never seen that,” Woll laughed. “There was certainly a lot of space to write on it and it was a hard surface. That day I’d been asked what the most unusual thing I’d ever signed” … Forward Nick Abruzzese was named AHL player of the week for two goals and five assists in seven games.