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Televised Leaf practices capture city's insatiable appetite for Buds

From left are Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovksi and Nikolai Kulemin for sports story on small town Canadian on a line with two Russians he can't understand. Photographed during the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey practice Oct 8, 2010 at the Mastercard Centre.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Luke Schenn and the rest of his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates were going through practice, as usual, last week when a few of them noticed something different in one corner of the rink.

There were microphones, lights and cameras, as well as a couple of talking heads on the air and broadcasting live from practice.

Part of a new two-hour segment on Leafs TV this season every time the team practises in Toronto, the coverage is just another example of how much of a spotlight is always on the team.

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"Some guys were talking about it – they had the microphones and the panel upstairs there, we were all wondering what was going on," Schenn said. "Someone said they're broadcasting our practices. It's a bit different.

"Obviously you can't let tons of fans into the practice rink every day so it's a different way of showing them what we're doing."

Not that they show everything. Because Leafs TV is the broadcasting arm of the team, they adhere to the team's wishes in terms of how much makes it to air.

While the ice surface has been wired for sound and a full crew is on hand, drills being run by the coaching staff are off limits so as to keep what they're working on under wraps.

Once practice ends, however, player interviews are broadcast mere minutes after being taped and coach Ron Wilson's daily press conference is shown live. Analysts then break down what was said, much like they would between periods of a game.

It's too early for any ratings data from the shows to be available, but Leafs TV host Paul Hendrick said Monday he feels it's been a successful endeavour so far.

"It's just an opportunity for programming," Hendrick said. "There are guidelines with it and we've got to be careful that we don't show too much. It's not always easy.

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"But Leafs fans have such an insatiable appetite. We're just trying to feed it as best we can."

A few of the Leafs players said they have seen the show – which rebroadcasts throughout the day – although others weren't even aware it was on.

One quipped that it was remarkable how many NHL teams couldn't get fans to come to games and here a team was televising practice.

Centre Matt Lombardi, who spent the past two seasons in Nashville and Phoenix, compared the coverage in Toronto to what NFL teams experience in terms of the level of attention.

"If you live in the U.S. and watch football, they go Monday to Sunday," Lombardi said. "They breakdown every single day of the week for them. If you're comparing it to that, I don't think it really is [that crazy]"

The practice broadcasts are part of what seems to be a constantly growing press contingent in Toronto. The launch of TSN's new sports radio station, in addition to more coverage from online sources, has increased the number of microphones and cameras present.

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Some outlets can have as many as four or five reporters at games or practices, making the Leafs dressing room more crowded than ever this early in the year.

That type of demand can have an impact on the team as well. Wilson said rookie goaltender Ben Scrivens hasn't been speaking with the media prior to games because the team wants to shelter him from all the attention.

The last time Scrivens was available on the day of a game was before a 7-0 blowout against the Boston Bruins.

"We want to have his focus primarily on his start and not the questions he has to answer," Wilson said, pointing out that starting pitchers in baseball don't talk before games. "Or the doubts that people might put in his mind.

"He's an easy quote and he'll stand there for two hours and answer all your questions and I don't think that's the right way to prepare for a game."

"They just want to make sure that I don't get overwhelmed," Scrivens added. "Me being new in this league, everything's kind of coming all at once."

The Leafs have cut back on access to players and staff in other ways this season. Injured netminder James Reimer hasn't been made available for comment since Oct. 26 and recent requests to speak with assistant coaches have been turned down.

The organization, meanwhile, remains extremely unhappy that a Toronto reporter unearthed details about Reimer's concussion history by talking to the goalie's mother last week – something that has created tension between the team and press of late.

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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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