The Toronto Maple Leafs are a divided team.
Don’t panic. It’s on purpose, as the coaching staff continues to implement different twists during a camp that is anything but ordinary. “It’s a little unconventional,” says head coach Sheldon Keefe,” but this is not a conventional camp or a conventional time, so we have to adapt to it.”
The Leafs call it the House Divided Series, pitting best friends Auston Matthews against Frederik Andersen. The two leaders of the team spent a lot of time together during the quarantine. Keefe likes the friendship that has formed, saying “it’s one of the real highlights for me just in terms of our team. You see two guys taking care of each other and hanging out with each other during a tough time rather than being alone. Certainly, in Fred’s case here in Toronto, Auston invited him out there. I think it’s a really cool thing for our team. We are just playing off that and creating some competitiveness with it within this camp.”
Teammates Enjoy the Rivalry
Jack Campbell likes the teams, too. “They are besties, and you know lived together, so they wanted to make it into a fun rivalry,” he said. Obviously, they are two of our biggest leaders, so any time you get those kinds of competitors, you know, it is going to be a good scrimmage.”
Keeping with the unique theme, the two teams are not evenly matched. Team Matthews includes the top-six forwards while Andersen’s team has a defensive make-up. Alex Kerfoot had a chuckle when he saw the line-ups. “Yeah, I don’t know who made those teams, but I don’t know, they got the top six there, I don’t know if that was an oversight or something,” he said.
Under normal circumstances, the top-six forwards would be on opposite sides in a scrimmage according to Keefe. But he wants to challenge the third and fourth lines to beat the top six. “Two lines that for me really got to work to make life hard on the opposition with their habits and their detail and how they play,” says Keefe. He’s also challenging his top two lines. “Our top guys have got to get used to playing against lines that make it hard on them,” he said.
Difficult Balance to Prevent Injury
The Leafs, like all teams, are dealing with a very short window to get game-ready. It seems the divided house theme cranked up the competition level immediately. Cody Ceci was asked if there was an increase in chirping between the two squads, “we are all friends and, we are all trying to stay as safe as possible out there and not get anyone injured before heading into the hub. We have all put a lot of time and effort into the training and getting ready for the season, at the same time we are trying to ramp up the competition level and get ready.”
Team Andersen, the defensive team, won the scrimmage game 6-5. The result could be good news as the team has been focusing on improving defensively. But Keefe didn’t like what he saw, saying “it was quite sloppy really lots of back and forth not a lot of saves, so not what we want to look like certainly in the end, but it’s part of the process.”
Keefe says there are four more “House Divided” scrimmages to improve, “of course, time is not on our side. We need to make sure that each day that we come out here and play these scrimmages that our habits and details are starting to fall in place.”
The divided house will be put back together in less than two weeks when Toronto plays the Montreal Canadiens in an exhibition game. Then, the house’s foundation better be solid, as the Leafs play the Columbus Blue Jackets in a five-game play-in series starting August 2.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.