Wilson won't let injured Leafs play hero

 

Ron Wilson was reminiscing yesterday about his uncle Johnny's ironman streak, a stretch of 580 consecutive games that set the NHL standard for endurance in the 1950s.

 
 
 
 
 

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Ron Wilson was reminiscing yesterday about his uncle Johnny's ironman streak, a stretch of 580 consecutive games that set the NHL standard for endurance in the 1950s.

"I asked him how he did it," the Leafs coach recalled. "He said, `I played with all kinds of injuries. I was afraid if I told anybody I was hurt or if (Red Wings owner) Jack Adams found out, I'd be sent to the minors.' I think, for an average player, that's how you felt back then. It's different today, it's much safer."

When it comes to medical issues, today's NHL borders on the enlightened. While there remains a certain heroic status accorded players battling through injuries, particularly during the playoffs, generally the wounded can't simply claim to be healed and pull their uniform back on. The team and its medical staff want proof first.

So while defencemen Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren both practised yesterday and both have been telling everyone they are ready to play, that doesn't mean they will automatically be in the Toronto lineup at Buffalo tomorrow night. There's a good chance call-up Jaime Sifers will get another game after a steady performance in his NHL debut Monday.

"We're going to get (Frogren) another MRI and make sure he's not covering up because he wants to get back in there," Wilson said. "The injury he's had was supposed to be about a four-week injury and he's only looking at two weeks right now."

Frogren, with a shrug: "They want to make sure it is 100 per cent or, otherwise, it can be worse."

Frogren suffered small muscle tears in his arm, the healing of which medical tests can easily quantify. For Van Ryn, it's a little more complicated. He suffered facial injuries, a broken hand and a concussion when Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos slammed him into the glass from behind five weeks ago.

The stitches have come out and his cast is off, but the injury that can't be X-rayed, the concussion, must still be checked. Before playing, he has to undergo a test to see if his brain function compares favourably to the baseline test he did at the start of training camp.

"It's a whole bunch of random questions to see if you get confused," Van Ryn said. "Lasts about an hour. I don't feel I'll have any problems with it. I didn't really feel I had a bad concussion or anything like that. I don't think there's be any problems and hopefully I'll be in (tomorrow)."

Not so fast, Wilson said.

"The medical report I got said he wouldn't be ready till Tuesday, but you never know," the coach said, citing concern about pain in the defenceman's hand. "We'll see."

The return of Van Ryn would be a big boost for the Leafs. Before he was hurt, not only did he provide Toronto with the offence he was known for early in his career, he was more a steadying influence in his own end than was anticipated.

Wilson said Van Ryn "won't have to work his way back in" to the lineup if he is close to the level he was playing at before the injury.

But the veteran knows better than to take his role for granted.

"(Wilson) doesn't give anything to anybody, you earn your ice time," said the 29-year-old. "I'm not going to go about it any differently than I did before."

Frogren is more of a borderline NHLer trying to prove himself as a 28-year-old rookie. But the return of those two defenders – whether it is tomorrow or Tuesday at home to New Jersey after an atypical weekend off – gives Wilson some options. His thin blue line is about to get a little deeper, even with rookie Luke Schenn still on the shelf with a knee injury.

 
 
 
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