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New Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson enjoys taking care of the details

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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New Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson enjoys taking care of the details

The Canadian Press
By:

TORONTO - The new coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs found himself in a serious traffic jam the other night and decided to make good use of the time - so he started yelling.

Ron Wilson isn't so much the angry sort, he was simply warming up for training camp after a summer of keeping his voice at a normal level.

It speaks to the level of preparation the veteran coach has put into his first camp since being hired by the Maple Leafs in June. He's tried to take care of every possible detail.

As a result, Wilson was able to lead two groups of players through a combined five hours of on-ice practice Saturday without losing his voice.

Most of the players are just getting to know their new coach but they're already picking up on his tendencies. The overall attention to detail is something that Alex Steen thinks has set the first couple days of camp apart from the others he's been through in Toronto.

"I have to say I have (noticed a difference)," he said. "They've come in very organized. Right off the bat, there's a lot of details. We have a short span to get to know everything about the new systems and all the new players. ...

"It's just one day and we've gone through a lot."

There is still much to go through for a Leafs team that could have as many as nine or 10 new faces in the lineup when it opens the season in Detroit on Oct. 9.

Toronto will start the exhibition schedule by hosting Buffalo on Monday, the first of nine pre-season games it will play over a 14-day period. Don't think for a moment that Wilson hasn't come up with a strategy of how to handle that - he already has a rough plan of who will play when.

"You want to make sure you don't kill your team," said Wilson.

He won't be afraid to punish them.

The main thing he's looking for during training camp is a willingness to compete. Wilson thinks it's important for his players to have some fun but doesn't want to see anyone goofing around during drills at practice.

It's one of the expectations he's made clear to his players.

"I want a team where everybody shows up every day and tries to make everybody better," said Wilson. "The only way you can do that is by trying. If you don't try and somebody does something they think is easy, the game starts and it's not easy.

"I want our guys to really push each other at practice."

If the new coach succeeds, hard work will be a hallmark of this year's version of the Maple Leafs.

There isn't a team in pro sports that doesn't aim to have its players work hard, but very few are able to sustain it consistently through a long season. Wilson is more than willing to be hard on his players to try and do just that.

"If you're a coach and you're not demanding, you're not a coach," he said. "I don't know what you are - a door opener, a custodian or something.

"I think every good coach in every sport is very demanding."

That's not to suggest that he has no regard for the feelings of his players.

A softer side can be seen in his decision to have new centre Mikhail Grabovsky skate alongside Nik Antropov and Alex Ponikarovsky during the first day of practice. The 24-year-old from Belarus speaks limited English and Wilson wanted to make him feel comfortable by pairing him with two others fluent in Russian.

Of course, there's always hope that Grabovsky will develop enough chemistry with Antropov and Ponikarovsky to warrant inclusion on the team's top line.

"You don't take skilled people and throw them on a fourth line with some grinders and expect them to score," said Wilson. "It doesn't work that way."

Just another detail.

The first two days of training camp have had a very light feeling. It might be due to the low expectations being placed on a rebuilding team that has missed the playoffs for three years, but some credit should also go to Wilson.

At least that's what the players think.

"It's always different under a new coach," said defenceman Pavel Kubina. "I just met him yesterday but I see he's brought so much energy in here. He's trying to make guys loose out there and he's trying to teach each player what he's supposed to do on the ice.

"I feel good about it."

So far, the feeling's mutual.

Wilson admitted that it was a pretty special feeling to put on a Maple Leafs warmup suit before practice. It didn't last long because he was soon back at work on the ice.

"We're going through a process," said Wilson. "They're getting used to me and I'm still trying to figure out who's who."

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New Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson enjoys taking care of the details