It was fitting Joffrey Lupul appeared in his first media scrum of training camp on the same day a crew from HBO’s popular documentary series 24/7 swarmed the Toronto Maple Leafs practice rink to prepare for this year’s version, which will chronicle the Leafs and Detroit Red Wings leading up to their appearance in the 2014 Winter Classic.
Lupul, after all, is the most media-savvy player on the NHL team, one who at least hides any annoyance with the mob of reporters and cameras that hovers at every practice and game.
“Some guys more than others,” Lupul said Wednesday, when he was asked if his teammates will welcome the presence of HBO cameras in usually off-limits areas when the shooting starts in early December. “But you should have fun with it. People like to see the players’ personalities, see the preparation for games.
“The key is to be yourself. I’ve watched the show in the past and it’s entertaining. I would expect it to be this year, too.”
Fortunately for Lupul and Maple Leafs fans, the actual news Wednesday was there is no reason to think at this point the veteran left winger will not be around for a star turn on the show. He took part in his first practice of training camp after coming down with back spasms just before camp opened last week.
Given Lupul’s checkered injury history (concussion, separated shoulder, broken forearm) includes two back operations in December of 2009 to repair a herniated disc, the alarm bells immediately went off. But not to worry, Lupul said, his latest malady was simply the result of overwork and was not related to his previous sacroiliac woes.
“I believe since I had surgery this is the first time I’ve missed time with [a back problem],” Lupul said. “I felt great all summer. I hadn’t had any issues.”
Lupul, who turns 30 next week, spent the week before training camp working with skating coach (and former world and Canadian champion) Barbara Underhill. He felt a twinge one morning and ignored it, much to his chagrin.
“I put in a lot of work the week before I was [in Toronto for camp],” he said. “There was some tightness [in the back] and I decided to push on through. It probably wasn’t the right idea the week before camp. There was a bit of concern because I have a history with the low back. Everything feels fine. There’s plenty of time to opening day so I feel confident.”
Lupul took part in just the first hour of head coach Randy Carlyle’s lengthy practice Wednesday. But both he and Carlyle said that was part of the plan, which is to exercise extreme caution during the preseason with any injury.
Just where Lupul will play this season has not been determined. He finished the 2013 campaign playing with centre Nazem Kadri, after James van Riemsdyk clicked with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel when Lupul was lost for six weeks with a broken arm. Lupul played with Bozak and Kessel on Wednesday, but Carlyle said no lineup is written in stone yet.
Carlyle, by the way, is clearly not as happy as Lupul about the pending presence of the 24/7 crew, but he is taking it in good humour, at least for now.
Someone asked if there is anything good or bad about having cameras omnipresent.
“Is there anything good or bad about me having to face 40 reporters every day?” Carlyle said.
“It’s branding,” he added. “It’s selling the game, not only to our market but to North America and anywhere in the world. We’re partners [with the NHL and HBO] and we were asked to participate. The people that are in those positions made the decision we’d like to be there so you live with it, like scheduling.”
Okay, one smart aleck said, did you have any input into the decision?
“None,” the coach said.
Well, came the follow-up, what would you have said if anyone asked for your opinion? That drew a smile from Carlyle.
“None,” he said again to a round of laughter.
Carlyle said right winger Colton Orr, who has also been injured (bone bruise) since the first practice of camp, will begin skating Thursday or Friday, and may join the team for its weekend games.
The Leafs made a couple more cuts Wednesday, sending forward Tyler Biggs and defenceman Jesse Blacker to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.