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Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Ryan Reaves fights with Montreal Canadiens defenseman Arber Xhekaj during the first period on Oct. 11 at Scotiabank Arena.Nick Turchiaro/Reuters

Ryan Reaves arrived for his first training camp with the Maple Leafs like a locomotive.

“I am pretty loud,” the team’s new pugilist says. “I come in pretty hot. I tend to chirp people right away to gauge their reaction. I don’t really shy into anything.”

Reaves, 36, has just begun his 14th season in the NHL. He is a big guy with an even bigger personality. Wide smile. Twinkle in his eye like he is constantly up to something. He couldn’t stand out more in the dullness of a dressing room if he wore a construction helmet and a flashing neon tie.

“When Billy Guerin brought Ryan to Minnesota, he mentioned that you need character on your team and sometimes you need characters,” Brad Treliving, Toronto’s general manager, says of his counterpart with the Wild. “There is a presence to Ryan. I just felt both on the ice and in our room and around our team, that we needed a little bit more noise and he brings that.”

During pregame introductions on opening night, Reaves flexed a muscle as he skated out into Scotiabank Arena. Early in the game, he made two jarring hits and then engaged in a tussle with Arber Xhekaj, a tough defender for the Montreal Canadiens.

As scraps go, it wasn’t much a good one. After a few punches were thrown, Reaves got pushed ass over tea-kettle over the net. But as he skated to the penalty box he gestured with his hands to the fans that he wanted a little love.

The arena filled with raucous cheers. This guy can really work a room.

Reaves got five minutes for fighting. Xhekaj was handed seven – two for instigating and five for the fight. Advantage Maple Leafs.

“Reaves has been tremendous in the time he has been here,” says Sheldon Keefe, Toronto’s coach. “The presence that he has and the life and energy that he brings is amazing. To me he has played this role probably better than anyone in the league for a long time. To have a player of that stature is great.”

He is 6-foot-2 and weighs about 230 pounds but appears far more imposing. His body looks like it was chiselled by Michelangelo. His chest and arms are covered in ink. And when it comes to protecting teammates he turns into a wasp at a picnic.

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“Full of piss and vinegar,” is how Mitch Marner, the Maple Leafs winger, describes him.

Reaves was born and grew up in Winnipeg where his father, Willard, was a star with the CFL’s Blue Bombers. He won the league’s most outstanding player award once and was Winnipeg’s leading rusher in each of his five years with the team.

Ryan was always the biggest kid in his class at school – “Much bigger than anybody else” – but says it was his dad who groomed him to be a tough guy in his youth.

“I returned a kick in football once and ran the ball out of bounds to avoid a tackle,” Reaves says. “My dad screamed at me and told me he never wanted to see me do that again, that I should run over the person instead.”

On the next kickoff return, Reaves charged up the field and ran through a would-be tackler and left him with a broken shoulder.

“I crushed him,” Reaves says. “My dad was so excited I think he jumped over the guy while he was on the ground.”

He has a younger brother, Jordan, who plays for the Edmonton Elks and he is the great-great-great grandson of Bass Reeves, the first Black lawman west of the Mississippi River.

“He was a tough man and a bounty hunter,” Reaves says. “I think he hunted down a family member once.”

Reaves has played 829 games in the NHL and is now with his seventh team. He signed a three-year contract with Toronto as a free agent at an annual salary of US$1.35-million. Last year he played in Minnesota for the Wild, against whom he will play in a home game on Saturday night.

He has no illusions about what he is best at. He lines up at right wing but has 129 points and 1,028 penalty minutes in his career. He has 30 more fights (89) than goals scored.

“I don’t play a lot of minutes or score a ton of goals,” Reaves says. “So what I do is play hard physically and try to make sure my teammates feel safe on the ice. People told me I would never play in the NHL, and I have had a lot of fun proving them wrong. But I know I am on my downside and I have never won a Stanley Cup.

“I really enjoyed Minnesota, liked the organization, the city and the team. I told them I would stay unless a contender called and then Toronto called and I knew I don’t have the luxury of time. The three years didn’t hurt but it was really having a chance to win that brought me here. A lot of thinking was involved.”

The more Keefe has watched him, the more glowing the review has become.

“He makes very few – if any – mistakes defensively,” Keefe says. “You can see why he has played in the league for a long time. It is not just because of the toughness and intangibles that he brings. His overall game is very efficient.”

Reaves says the league has changed a great deal since he entered. Then, he threw 150-pound dumb bells around because most teams had a good fighter. Now he does sprints up and down the ice with weights around his ankles to make himself faster.

“Everybody loves him,” says Max Domi, a teammate and a scrapper. “He is an unbelievable guy.”

On Thanksgiving Day, after practice, Reaves brought his seven-year-old son Kanen – who is as big as a 10-year-old – onto the ice. They skated up and down while his wife watched from the bench with their young daughter.

Reaves passed pucks to Kanen and played keep-away with him. At one point when Kanen skated along the boards, Reaves gently checked him into the boards. When he tried to get up he knocked him down – gently – again.

Soon, Kanen was beaming as he tried to check his dad and pin him against the boards.

Like father, like son.

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