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Exelby's world travels an excellent adventure

Toronto Maple Leafs' Garnet Exelby, top, bleeds from his forehead while fighting Philadelphia Flyers' Ian Laperriere in Toronto on Saturday, September 19, 2009.

Darren Calabrese

If the Toronto Maple Leafs' in-house television station Leafs TV is in need of some off-season programming, it may want to follow around defenceman Garnet Exelby for a summer.

He's part Marlin Perkins of the old Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom show and part competitor on The Amazing Race, the popular reality television series.

Since last season ended, the 28-year-old Exelby went bungee jumping in New Zealand and swam with bull sharks off the coast of Fiji, and he visited Sweden to work on his skating with an on-ice guru.

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"When I was growing up it was all about keeping my eye on the prize and that was making it to the NHL and be successful and stay here as long as I could," said Exelby, whose team plays host to the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. It has not yet been determined whether Sidney Crosby will suit up for the Penguins at the Air Canada Centre.

"At this stage, I guess I'm trying to get back a few of those summers and interests that I may have passed up to get here," Exelby said. "I'm trying to find that balance in life that allows me to unplug from all the playing and training that we do. I like learning and seeing different cultures and visiting different places."

There isn't much planning that goes into these exotic excursions with his girlfriend, Kate. Basically, Exelby selects a city or country, buys a travel book and flies off on his adventure.

"I pick a city to land in, find a place to stay that night and then set off with my backpack and explore," he said.

In New Zealand, Exelby did plenty of hiking in the mountainous area of the country and wasn't shy about getting up on a platform over a canyon and dropping more than 100 metres toward the earth with a bungee cord wrapped around his leg.

In Fiji, he revealed that swimming with the sharks wasn't as easy. "I almost backed out two or three days before I did it," he said. "I had second thoughts."

But Exelby eventually strapped on scuba gear and swam with the bull sharks that got as close as three metres away.

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"It lasted for about 20 minutes and it sure gave my heart a workout," he said. "It was worth it. But it turned out that they were more interested in the fish heads that were around and not us."

This was Exelby's third summer of excellent adventures. He also has visited places such as Egypt, Dubai, Croatia, Italy, Jamaica and Bahamas. But he doesn't lie on the beach or poolside in these countries. He gets out and experiences local life.

"Maybe I shouldn't be talking about this because [the Leafs]wouldn't be happy about the [risky adventures]" he said.

But that spirit helped him make the NHL. He has 357 NHL games of experience, a surprising run considering he wasn't drafted until the eighth round (217th overall) by the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999. He did not attend the draft that summer and instead discovered he was selected by Atlanta while he was in a family convoy to move to Calgary from the Winnipeg area.

He even arrived late on the WHL scene. Born in Craik, Sask., and raised in Ste. Anne, Man., near Winnipeg, Exelby grew up cheering for the Winnipeg Jets.

But he did not play Triple A minor hockey because of the cost of playing on travelling teams. Instead, he suited up for his high school team, won a provincial championship and then joined the Saskatoon Blades late as a 17-year-old. He made enough of an impact in his third junior season to be invited to the Canadian junior team selection camp in December of 2000, but was among the final cuts.

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