Friday, January 12, 2007


Toronto Maple Leafs-Belleville Connection

Part Two
Another reason why Quinte residents are keeping a closer eye on the Maple Leafs this year is because Andrew Raycroft stands between the pipes for most of their games.

At their home games, there is a large contingent of supporters at the Air Canada Centre. Most of those fans rock from side to side in their seats, attempting to help Andrew keep the puck out of the net.

One of Raycroft’s staunchest fans does not attend the games. In fact, she was upset when he left home to play in the OHL. Andrew was her paper boy, and, according to her, the best she ever had. “He was always polite and pleasant,” she told me. “And he always stayed on the sidewalk. Those others cut across the lawn all the time.”

Raycroft’s paper delivery days were long done when hockey began to take a lot of his time. He spent his minor hockey days with the AAA Quinte system, then headed to the Wellington Dukes. He has become one of many outstanding goaltenders to have tended the twine for the Dukes---Robert Gherson is in the Leafs organization, currently with the Columbia Inferno of the East Coast League. Daniel La Costa now plays for the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League. Dan Turple is also in the East Coast Hockey League with the Gwinnett Gladiators. Other former Dukes are now in the OHL, or at colleges and universities.

Local hockey buffs have followed Raycroft’s progress since he began with the Sudbury Wolves when he was seventeen years old. He spent two years in the shadow of the Big Nickle, then headed to the Limestone City. He hit his groove in Kingston, under head coach Larry Mavety. It came as no surprise to “Mav”, who knew Andrew while he was getting started in Belleville.

Raycroft wrapped up his OHL career by copping some impressive hardware: the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player, the Goaltender of the Year Award for the CHL, and first All Star team selections. He also was selected as Belleville’s Athlete of the Year---the Robinson-Kelleher Award.

Now 26 years old, Raycroft has been under the tutelage of a variety of goaltending coaches. For several years, he has worked with Jon Elkin. Elkin runs a school for goalies in Toronto, then assists his clients by grading their performances during the winter in game conditions. Generally, goalies adopt the “Quebec Butterfly” approach to the art. Cut down angles, develop quick hands and feet, lateral movement, smother rebounds---anything to keep the biscuit out of the basket.

Andrew was drafted in the fifth round by the Bruins in 1998. He fell under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers, who was responsible for young Bruin netminders in the system.

In 2000, he headed to Providence, the AHL farm team of the Bruins, and spent the next three years on the roller coaster between Boston and Providence. He got his first taste of the Big Time in the 2000-2001 season, posting a nifty 2.96 goals against average.

In his first official season in the NHL with the Bruins, Raycroft posted a 2.05 GAA, won 29 games, tied nine, and recorded three shutouts. Sufficient to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year, and a selection to the All Rookie All Star Team.

Then, “The Year of No Hockey”. Place the blame wherever you wish. Raycroft logged eleven games with Tampere in Finland, getting a taste of European cooking.

The following year, Raycroft got a late start due to lagging contract negotiations, and battled through minor injuries. By the end of the season, the Bruins had an entire different look. Gone were Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, and Hal Gill. It was time for a fresh start for Raycroft. He became a Maple Leaf.

With more than half the season gone, with 44 games under their belts, the Leafs are in the thick of it. Raycroft has won 18 games, lost 14, and tied 4. His GAA is 3.01, under the watchful eye of goalie coach Stephen McKichan.

Many of the Leafs’ fanatics are wont to criticize every move made, not necessarily those of the goalies. Nothing pleases that hoard except win after win after win. Unfortunately, that is not the real world. It is, after all, a team game. Forwards need to come back to pick up their checks, defensemen need to clear rebounds and keep traffic away from the front of the goal, without upsetting the men in stripes. Pucks need to hit the twine in the opposite end of the rink. There is always an element of luck involved as well.

Players and team mates have recently expressed confidence in Raycroft. Enough said.

In a recent response to the tirades from those attending games at the ACC, Raycroft had this to say in the Toronto Sun: “Believe me, the only guys I’m worried about in the entire city, province, and country (as to) what people think of me are the guys in here and the coaches. I’ trying to do my best and that’s all that matters.”

It will be a battle all the way to the playoffs. At that point in time, anything can happen. Raise your hand if you predicted the ‘Canes would win the Cup last year. Right.
James Hurst

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