For years, David Clarkson would get pumped for games against the New York Rangers.
That's the way it is when you play for the neighbouring New Jersey Devils.
That's right, the Battle of Ontario begins a new chapter Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in Ottawa when the hometown Senators and Leafs clash, albeit in a pre-season game. The Toronto native knows exactly what to expect.
"Luckily enough, having grown up here, I know who the rivals are," Clarkson said. "Any game you play if you don't go hard you have a chance of getting hurt. We're all trying to work little kinks out, too, and feel good together.
"You can't take a pre-season game lightly. You can't let a guy go by you. We're all competitive and we're going to play hard in this game just like every game you play."
Clarkson has assumed a leadership role on what is otherwise a pretty young Maple Leafs team and he knows his teammates are watching closely to see the type of impact he can make. As a player who has a history of playing a physical game, but also one who can contribute on offence, he should be a key player in the Battle of Ontario for years to come.
"I think any time you get the chance to put on this jersey and get a chance to play against a team that is so close [geographically], I'm sure it'll be a playoff-type atmosphere," he said. "I know it's pre-season, but it'll still have that feeling to it. I'm sure there'll be a lot of Leafs jerseys in the stands [Thursday] so we'll go out there and give it all we have."
Another player looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the rival Senators is captain Dion Phaneuf. He does not have to be reminded about the bad blood that exists between the two teams.
"I expect any time we go to Ottawa it's the Battle of Ontario and there's going to be a lot of energy in their building," Phaneuf said. "I'm looking forward to getting going."
As for Clarkson's role with the Maple Leafs, coach Randy Carlyle said it is pretty fundamental.
"He's got to go up and down his wing, bang, go to the front of the net, be hard to play against, be first on the forecheck, be first on the backcheck when it's his turn; all those things," Carlyle said. "We ask the same thing of all of our players and he has some intangibles that cause you to notice him when he's on the ice."
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
A lot is being made of Joe Colborne's audition with the Maple Leafs this season, mainly because the big centre has to pass through waivers if the team wants to send him down to the minors. He would likely be scooped by another organization in that case.
Colborne gets a great opportunity to strut his stuff in Ottawa playing on a line with James van Riemsdyk and Clarkson.
"When I came in here I realized he is a very polite kid; very down to earth," said Clarkson of Colborne. "From watching him play I have been impressed. He's a kid that works hard. He's big with good hands and he does a lot of things well."
Coach Randy Carlyle makes no bones about the fact a lot is expected from Colborne who has had a few cups of coffee in the NHL. In 16 NHL games, the six-foot-five, 223-pound Colborne has a goal and six points.
"It's time for some people to step to the front and Joe Colborne has to separate himself from some people here," Carlyle said. "He's getting an opportunity to play with some people, bigger-bodied guys and we'll see how that develops. As we stated before the time is now for a player like Colborne to show that he's got the necessary assets and attitude and commitment to make an impression in the NHL."
Carlyle said there is some urgency in Colborne making a good enough impression to stick with the varsity squad.
"The way this works, the bus only goes by so many times," the coach said. "And you want to be on that bus. That's the way it was when I started and it has been that way for years. You only get so many opportunities. Who knows when the last one is? Other people will make that decision," said the coach.
"I'm not saying that is what is happening, but the bus is going by and there's another opportunity so you want to be on it. If you want a ride to downtown you'd better get on the bus."
Mild-mannered Phil Kessel opened a few eyes against the Flyers Saturday night when he responded to being harassed by hacking and whacking back. It cost him a double minor, but might buy him a little bit of space in the regular season.
"Obviously I was getting sticked a little bit and it being my first pre-season game, I didn't like it," Kessel said of his unexpected response. "I don't get sticked like that during the year, so..."
Kessel said he won't be flipping his lid too often.
"I think my emotions are pretty good," Kessel said with a laugh. "I just go out and play."
NEW KID IN TOWN
Maple Leafs players and coaches have been cautious not to say anything that would suggest newcomer Jonathan Bernier is a lock to earn the No. 1 goaltender's job, even though that is likely the case. Bernier was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings and is competing for the position with holdover James Reimer.
Captain Dion Phaneuf said Bernier has been a very welcome addition to the organization.
"Bernie has fit in great with our room," Phaneuf said. "From what I have seen so far he's a guy who likes to compete in practice and as a player who is trying to score on him, that's what you like. You want a goalie who will push you and challenge you. It's been great so far."
Phaneuf said there is one noticeable difference in the style Bernier plays compared to other Leafs goalies in the past.
"I haven't had the opportunity to play in a game with him yet, but in practice he moves the puck very well," Phaneuf said. "That's obviously one of his strengths and as a D-man that helps a lot because when we're going back he's our eyes and when he makes that first pass it gives you a little bit of extra time to make the play."
BEWARE OF MAC
While former Maple Leafs' winger Clarke MacArthur is not expected to be in the lineup for the Senators on Thursday, fellow Edmonton native Dion Phaneuf expects his old pal to be tough to play against when he eventually tangles with Toronto.
"Obviously I'm very good friends with Clarke and I have a lot of respect for him as a teammate when I played with him, but I have played lots against him, too," Phaneuf said. "He's a guy that competes hard and he's wearing the other jersey now.
"Off the ice we go way back and I wish him nothing but the best there, but when he's wearing that jersey, there's going to be a lot of compete there and there are no friends on the ice."
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