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Wilson keeping players loose

The way they reacted — broad smiles, high-fives — you would have thought they had won something big. Like, maybe, a game.

The way they reacted — broad smiles, high-fives — you would have thought they had won something big. Like, maybe, a game.

But for six guys in blue shirts — Luke Schenn, Francois Beauchemin, John Mitchell, Lee Stempniak, Garnet Exelby and Rickard Wallin — they did win something: A mini 3-on-3 tournament at an arena three-quarters the size of an NHL rink in Richmond Hill.

“It started out kind of just fun, but at the end, guys were getting mad and angry, and getting intense,” said Luke Schenn, smiling a champion’s smile. “Guys wanted it pretty bad.”

It was clear bragging rights had been won, at least for the bus trip back to the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke where showers and a change back into civilian clothes awaited.

Say what you will about Leaf coach Ron Wilson, but he’s got a knack for making practices fun, even for a team mired in a losing streak.

A game of dodgeball last week and yesterday’s surprise bus trip to Richmond Hill’s National Training Rinks were his way to keep things interesting and distract players from their awful 0-6-1 start.

“It was something different. It’s competitive, too,” said Wilson. “Playing in small areas, you have to do things a bit quicker. We worked hard Monday and Tuesday on physical drills. Backed off today. Tomorrow get back at the physicality.”

The Leafs are in the midst of a week off, and five days of practice can be a bit gruelling.

“You want to have some fun there,” said Wilson. “I know it’s hard for people to understand when we haven’t won a game that we should be having fun. But it’s important to let the guys relax a little bit, and at the same time get a great workout. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered.”

Hopefully, yesterday’s mini-shinny experiment will cure what ails them.

“It will be nice for us to go on the road for a bit, string something together, get a bunch of games in a few days and build momentum early on in the trip,” said Schenn.

 
 
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