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Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock runs the training camp at the BMO Centre in Halifax, N.S., on Sept. 18. It felt like a morale-building day for a group that was booed at home so often last season.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

When Mike Babcock's car wheeled up to the suburban practice rink, it was a little after 6 a.m. on Friday morning and already the party had started.

The parking lot was full – "jammed," the coach said – in anticipation of the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp opening three hours later for a series of fast-paced drills.

Some fans had slept in their cars. Many had pulled their kids from school, marking this an unofficial Maritime holiday.

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All in attendance were hockey mad. The crowd roared when goals were scored in the haphazard scrimmages and chanted players' names when they arrived to speak with the media and sign autographs.

Babcock was one of the biggest stars, and after nine hours cooped up in the arena, he coaxed a large group of fans to meet him "in the sunshine" to keep signing jerseys and T-shirts in front of the building.

The Leafs meant this quick jaunt to Nova Scotia to be a team-building exercise, but what it felt like on Friday was a morale-building one for a group that was booed at home so often last season.

"They're amazing hockey fans," said Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul, who played for Canada at the 2003 world junior tournament in Halifax, which set attendance records. "You can already see around town how excited people are to have us."

The roughly 1,000 fans lucky enough to get in the building were treated to an interesting preview of how the Leafs intend to play. Even though this was Day 1 and unfamiliarity was everywhere, Babcock didn't waste any time in attempting to teach his 69 charges. (That overwhelming number of Leafs, Marlies and long shots was made manageable by chopping the group up into three 23-man teams and playing on multiple ice sheets.)

The coach's primary message was that he wants them to think quickly and move quickly, spending as little time defending as possible. Rather than draw it all up on the white board, Babcock was instead roving around on the ice, barking commands and watching it unfold. When it didn't work, he let them know.

It made an immediate impression on a few of the youngest Leafs.

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"It was really up-tempo," defenceman Stuart Percy said. "He was really intense. He just wants to get things done. I loved it out there."

"He's very intense," echoed Mitch Marner, the team's first-round pick in the 2015 draft. "But that's the kind of coach we want here. We want someone to be hard on us."

Some of the veterans, meanwhile, thought they saw a kernel of what's to come in Babcock's methods. Lupul explained there was some instruction going on all over the ice and mentioned "entries into the offensive zone" as one particular focus when his group was out there with the head coach.

"There's going to be a lot of attention to detail," Lupul surmised. "We're trying to keep the pace of the practice high because that's how we envision the pace of our game being this year."

"He wants us to play fast," teammate Peter Holland said. "We need the puck to do that. The quicker we get out of our end, the more we can play on offence."

It may have felt quick for the players, but it wasn't enough to impress Babcock. He thought they were far too slow – partially because of their unfamiliarity with his drills and concepts and partially because there were a lot of young, skittish players in the mix.

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He had to explain a lot more than he plans to in a few weeks.

"We're going to try to build a foundation and get some structure going here," Babcock said. "This is three days [in Halifax] to get guys comfortable with where I want them to stand, how I want them to play and the way we talk. We'll keep working on that for 21 days of camp."

"I enjoyed being around them today," he later added. "I thought they tried hard. I don't think we did it that great, but they tried hard. We're going to get in shape, and we're going to try hard."

Even the team mottos, apparently, are a work in progress.

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