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Something's in the air with the Maple Leafs

Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on October 6, 2011 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Give a hockey team enough time off, and strange things start happening.

For the Toronto Maple Leafs, their week-long wait between games has brought on a little bit of a Twilight Zone situation around the team.

Take, for example, head coach Ron Wilson's bizarre response on Thursday to the routine question of whether centre Tim Connolly's undisclosed injury is now past the point of being day-to-day.

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"It depends on the days," Wilson said. "Are days on Mars longer? Right? In terms of hours?"

His head didn't start spinning around after the comment, but it might as well have.

(Wilson did have a point in that Mars does, in fact, have days that are 40 minutes longer than here on Earth. Something to consider if Gary Bettman wants to look into an interplanetary expansion team…)

The other sure sign of the apocalypse came on Wednesday night, when the team's notoriously media shy star Phil Kessel signed up on Twitter and began broadcasting his innermost thoughts.

"Great trip to Trenton," he wrote on the bus ride home from the team's retreat. "Thanks to the Canadian Forces for the hospitality and for all they do."

It may not have been much, but it was easily longer than some of scrums he's had with reporters in his time in Toronto.

Perhaps this is the start of a whole new Kessel, one who speaks his mind freely and engages with all?

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Asked to chat about his big foray into social media, however, Kessel declined to come out of the back room after practice Thursday, having – as usual – shed his equipment with remarkable speed and disappeared before the media were allowed into the dressing room.

"He doesn't want to talk about it today," a team spokesman said. "Maybe tomorrow."

His teammates still had fun with the idea of Kessel joining the new frontier.

"He just said, 'Boys, I'm going to get it,'" said Tyler Bozak, one of the more active tweeters in the NHL and Kessel's closest friend on the team. "I don't know if he's tweeted much yet or knows how to work it. I'm not going to expect too much from his account."

"I don't know what he was thinking," Colby Armstrong added. "We started laughing at him. … Maybe he likes me? I think he's just interested in what I'm doing every time I say something."

As has generally been the case, Kessel has let his play do the talking for the Leafs this season. He leads the team in scoring with five points in the first two games, including a hat trick in a win last Saturday over the Ottawa Senators.

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He's also far and away the leader in ice time among forwards, having averaged more than 20 minutes a game and getting the green light from Wilson to play in key situations.

Now 24, Kessel has averaged 33 goals a season the past three campaigns, putting him 16th among all scorers over that time frame. The team hopes he can threaten the 40-goal mark this season as he grows into his role.

Bozak believes fans may also finally start to hear a little more from the reclusive face of the franchise.

"He's pretty quiet," Bozak said. "But I think he won't be as nervous to talk when it's not actually him talking to someone [in the media]and it's through a computer. He might loosen up a bit."

Not long after that comment and only a few minutes after he had declined an interview request, Kessel's Twitter account came alive, producing its second message from behind the closed dressing room doors.

"Great day at prac today," he wrote. "Linemate @JLupul was on fire... excited to meet some of our season tix holders tonight."

Outside of the dressing room and surrounded by reporters, Wilson admitted the group is getting a little anxious to play its next game, Saturday against the Calgary Flames.

"I'm like the players after a while," he said. "I don't want to practice either. The fun part's the games."

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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