There’s an awful lot of Winnipeg in Randy Carlyle.
And given what the return of the NHL team has meant to this city, there’s a lot of Carlyle in these reborn Jets, too.
A native of Sudbury, Ont., Carlyle basically became a native son of the ‘Peg after landing with the original Jets as a 27-year-old defenceman three years removed from winning the Norris Trophy.
He went on to play nine seasons for the team, became an assistant coach in their final season and then took over the Manitoba Moose as head coach and GM not long after that.
In all, he spent most of a 20-year-span in the city, where he raised his family and helped keep the dream of returning the NHL here alive by icing a competitive team year after year.
So when Carlyle steps behind the opposition bench on Thursday night as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there will be a lot of emotion in the building, both for him and the fans.
“There’s emotions that go through it,” Carlyle said. “It’s nice to see people I’ve had relationships with for a number of years. Some good, some bad.
“Lots of good memories for myself and my family.”
Unsurprisingly, Carlyle is the story in the city with every media outlet. He has had enormous scrums for his availabilities and talked at length about everything from going back to his favourite local fishing stores to the circumstances behind taking the job with the Leafs.
(He missed the chance to return to Winnipeg last year when he was fired by the Anaheim Ducks just before.)
Also drawing a lot of attention here, however, are James Reimer, Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, the three Manitoba natives on the Leafs roster. Every indication is that Reimer will start and Orr and McLaren will be in on the fourth line, as Carlyle allows them to play in front of family and friends.
The NHL’s new collective agreement has upped the number of tickets available to visiting teams to 80 from about 50, and the lion’s share of those will go to the family members of the three Leafs from the area.
“I bought quite a few tickets and made some of my friends pay for their own,” McLaren said. “I bought them all tickets last year and I didn’t play [when he came through with the San Jose Sharks]. I’m trying not to get too geared up; I know the fans here are crazy.”
There’s a lot being made of the contrast between the Jets and Leafs buildings right now, especially with Winnipeg’s home record so strong going back to last year and Toronto’s so poor.
Carlyle said one of his team’s focuses will be preparing for that hostile atmosphere, although the Leafs have seemed to perform much better on the road so the intimidation factor may not be an issue.
“You’ve got to focus on the start,” Carlyle said. “Get you into the hockey game early... They’re a team that can ride the wave of emotion from the home crowd. They’ve been able to come back in hockey games.”
- Toronto will again be without defencemen Carl Gunnarsson and Mike Komisarek, with Gunnarsson fighting a nagging hip injury and Komisarek a healthy scratch yet again. Gunnarsson was on the ice in the morning skate and insisted he doesn’t feel that bad, but Carlyle’s update was that he was “still a ways away.”
- One body the Leafs will get back in the near future is Mike Brown, who could play on Saturday in Montreal. The Leafs placed Gunnarsson on injured reserve on Thursday afternoon likely in order to free up a roster spot for Brown to come back.
- With the two punchers apparently in the lineup, that leaves David Steckel in the press box and Carlyle likely back with using a fourth line with Jay McClement, Orr and McLaren. That trio has not been very good, even in limited minutes, which is just one of the curious lineup decisions being made continuously by the Leafs coach.
- One thing to watch for on the Leafs power play: Carlyle has finally relented and switched Dion Phaneuf back to his customary spot on the right point (where he’s more comfortable shooting from) and put John-Michael Liles on the top unit. Those two did well on the man advantage a year ago before Liles was hurt, and it has been terrible with Mike Kostka on the right side and Phaneuf shifted over.
- Both teams had the day off from practice on Wednesday as one of the four mandated days a month players now get under the new CBA. That made for a longer morning skate for the Leafs, in particular, as Carlyle tries to find practice time even on game days. One thing they continue to work on every time is that power play, which has only two goals in the last 30 opportunities (6.6 per cent).
JVR - Bozak - Kessel
McClement - Grabovski - Kulemin
MacArthur - Kadri - Frattin
McLaren - Komarov - Orr
Phaneuf - Kostka
Liles - Holzer
Fraser - Franson
Wheeler - Jokinen - Kane
Ladd - Burmistrov - Little
Ponikarovsky - Antropov - Wellwood
Wright - Slater - Thorburn
Enstrom - Hainsey
Redmond - Stuart
Clitsome - Postma