MAPLE LEAFS NOTES: Giordano among players to try neck guards

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Mark Giordano knows the spotlight will find him every so often during games.

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And the Maple Leafs veteran defenceman knows the impact he can have when it does.

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As the Leafs were back on the ice on Wednesday for their first practice since returning from Sweden, Giordano was one of three Leafs, along with winger Tyler Bertuzzi and defenceman Simon Benoit, who was wearing a neck guard.

“As a dad, for me, it’s just an important message to the kids who are watching us on TV and growing up,” Giordano said. “Maybe it will encourage some of the young kids or junior players to try it and go from there.”

The issue of neck guards in hockey moved to the top of the news cycle, and has remained a topic of conversation, when Adam Johnson died after he was struck in the neck by the skate of Matt Petgrave during a pro game in England on Oct. 28. 

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The Leafs have ordered different styles of the protective gear, and more players are expected to try them out. 

“It feels like you’re a lot warmer out there, a little bit uncomfortable having something on your neck when you’re not used to it,” said Giordano, who indicated he will give several a try. “The key is to try to get used to something that is relatively comfortable and go from there and keep wearing it over and over again.

“Once guys see guys trying things, whether it be sticks or skates, gloves, neck guards, we’re always asking each other questions. From a safety point of view, I think it’s important to try things.”

Coach Sheldon Keefe, of course, recognizes the importance in wearing the guards.

“I think it makes a lot of sense,” Keefe said. “I’m in full support. At this point, guys are experimenting to see what works for them.

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“The more players that do it, it makes them safer, I think sends a really important message to young people that it is an important piece of equipment.”


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After a couple of days off following their flight home from Stockholm on Sunday, the Leafs were happy to return to work.

Winning both games in Stockholm — beating the Minnesota Wild in overtime on Sunday after rallying to defeat the Detroit Red Wings on Friday — had the Leafs in a positive frame of mind.

“A successful trip, it was a blast and we had a great time in Stockholm and took care of business, so it’s good to come back,” captain John Tavares said.

“You’re rested and fresh, but you feel a little heavier than usual, so it’s good to get moving, mentally get back in sync with things.

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“It’s an important couple days in getting back up to speed and getting ready to play at a high level. It’s another big weekend for us.”

Road games versus the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday afternoon and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, the Leafs’ first game against former general manager Kyle Dubas, will come after Leafs practise again on Thursday.

“It’s a real thing you have to manage and you can’t just expect the guys to push through without us being smart and deliberate and do what we can to take care of them,” Keefe said of the challenges the Leafs might face as they adjust to being back in North America.

“We have a rather funky start time on Friday (1 p.m. in Chicago). It’s not a regular game-day routine. It’s a lot like what we had in Sweden in that sense. We’re being purposeful about what we’re doing and giving them every opportunity to bounce back. 

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“You have to be smart about it and not disregard it as just hockey and part of the schedule.”

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With speculation regarding the future of former Blackhawks star Patrick Kane and how the Leafs might be involved, there’s a more immediate concern with Chicago rookie Connor Bedard on Friday.

The 18-year-old has been sharp in his first 16 games in the National Hockey League, putting up 15 points (nine goals and six assists) to lead freshmen in scoring before games on Wednesday.

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“More than his shot, I think it’s his hockey sense that impresses me more than anything,” Tavares said. “He’s got such good awareness of time and space, the defenders playing him, where the open man is. His ability to shoot, his release and deception is as good as any player in the game. It’s amazing how he has come in and been able to adapt so quickly. In a lot of ways it’s not surprising, but he’s a very special talent.”

While it has been reported that the Leafs met via Zoom with Kane, whose decision on where he plays next should be made in the coming days, we’ll repeat what we said in this space last week. 

The Leafs’ greatest need is on the blue line, an area that general manager Brad Treliving must improve. Kane isn’t what the Leafs require to win hockey games in the playoffs next spring, and Toronto doesn’t have the money to sign him anyway.

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