Hockey Night in Canada

Mike Babcock puts Leafs through toughest practice in the dark

The work didn't stop when the lights went out at Maple Leafs practice on Wednesday afternoon. Babcock sent his team a loud message a day after a 7-0 thrashing by the Los Angeles Kings, delivering it with a hard, fast-paced 50-minute workout.

Toronto coach sends team strong message after 7-0 thrashing to Kings

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock sent his team a loud message a day after a 7-0 thrashing by the Los Angeles Kings, delivering it with a hard, fast-paced 50-minute workout. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

The work didn't stop when the lights went out at Maple Leafs practice on Wednesday afternoon.

"What, they can't skate in the dark or what?" head coach Mike Babcock asked.

Babcock sent his team a loud message a day after a 7-0 thrashing by the Los Angeles Kings, delivering it with a hard, fast-paced 50-minute workout. Babcock didn't even address the group beforehand, nor put them through a video session of Tuesday's carnage. He just put them to work.

"We're not playing like that," Babcock said. "It's unacceptable to play that. It's unLeaf-like as far as I'm concerned now and we're not playing like that."

The Kings ran all over the Leafs, exploding for four goals in the second period and seven total on a night that saw No. 1 Frederik Andersen pulled for the first time. L.A. outshot Toronto 43-19 while out-attempting the Leafs 75-38.

Babcock thought his team offered little resistance for most of the evening, describing them as "easy to play against." Too many battles were lost, he said. Determination was lacking. The Kings scored easy and often, zipping untouched into the offensive end, while the Leafs mounted next to no challenge against Kings third-string goalie Peter Budaj.

Babcock said his players would do their "penance" at Wednesday's practice, and indeed they did in a manner similar to the infamous scene in "Miracle" where 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) kept the team after an exhibition game to skate, putting them through a gruelling pace after a lacklustre effort against Norway. 


Toughest yet

Jake Gardiner described the practice as the toughest yet in the Babcock era, which started last season. Expectations for this group are significantly higher than the 30th-place edition of last year what with the additions of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Andersen.

"I think everyone kind of got the message, if we're not going to skate during the game we're going to skate the next day," Gardiner said.

"They're a team that's obviously been winning for a while now," Matthews said of the Kings. "That's where we want to be here soon so it was a good lesson for us to show that we've still got a little bit of a ways to go to be on that level as teams like L.A., Chicago, teams that are expected to win that always are in the playoffs making runs every year."

Babcock's workout started out with a five-minute bag-skate, continued with a series of uptempo drills, and included plenty of one-on-one battles for pucks and positioning.

The wound of a season-worst loss, which followed a season-long three-game win streak, was still fresh for most players a day later. Defenceman Connor Carrick said it was the last thing on his mind when he went to sleep and the first thing he woke up thinking about.

"It was on my mind all night," Carrick said.

If caught off-guard, Carrick had at least seen the lights go out at practice before. Babcock, too, recalled playing for McGill in Europe when the power dropped with his team down 6-0 in the first period.

"So when the lights went out we bailed," Babcock said.

The Leafs were in mid-drill when all went dark about 47 minutes into the workout. Matthews said he actually received a pass from linemate Zach Hyman at that moment, apparently scoring on Andersen anyway. Hints of light came only from emergency bulbs scattered around the practice pad.

Babcock kept right on, instructing his team to skate for three or four minutes longer in the dark.

"I was thinking 'Thank goodness we're getting off the ice' and then obviously Babs had different idea," Gardiner said of his reaction.

By the time the practice ended the ice was entirely chewed up. Mounds of snow were everywhere and remained there. The power was expected to remain out for an extended period in the Etobicoke neighbourhood where the team's practice facility is located.

Babcock got his message across though, loud and clear. Even in the dark.

"You can't play like that. You can't compete like that. You can't be that light," he said. "You can't be the way we were."

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