Leafs' Mrazek nearing return from injury; chats Ayres game with new teammate Clifford

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  • Toronto Maple Leafs
    Toronto Maple Leafs
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Petr Mrazek
    Petr Mrazek
    Czech ice hockey player

TORONTO — Maple Leafs goalie Petr Mrazek is inching closer to a return from injury.

And because of the team's outstanding play in his absence, he hasn't felt any need to rush back.

Mrazek was a full practice participant with Toronto on Tuesday for the first time since reaggravating a groin problem Oct. 30.

The 29-year-old has been out ever since, but joined the Leafs on their recent road trip and sits on the cusp of seeing game action.

"I'm happy to be back, I can tell you that," Mrazek said. "It's been a tough time for me, but I feel good.

"(Injuries) happen in a sport. I tried to be positive and work hard to get back."

"Jack and Joey played outstanding," said Mrazek, who's 1-1-0 with an .877 save percentage and a 4.20 GAA in his two appearances. "I'm really happy for them. To go on a road trip with the guys and winning (games), it's always a lot happier locker room."

But Mrazek was hurt in the second game of the season against the Ottawa Senators before taking two weeks off to rehab. He returned for the Oct. 30 matchup against the Detroit Red Wings, and while he finished that one, Mrazek could feel a recurrence of the injury.

"It wasn't as bad as in Ottawa," he explained. "A few days after, we were looking at it and it wasn't getting any better.

"Sometimes these things happen."

What also happened was Campbell and the Leafs (16-6-1) went on an incredible run throughout November, finishing an NHL-best 12-2-0 to set a franchise record for victories in a calendar month.

Campbell is 12-4-1 overall this season with a .946 save percentage and a 1.64 goals-against average.

And during Toronto's November surge, the 29-year-old was 9-2-0 with .959 save percentage to emphatically stake his claim on the Leafs' No. 1 job, while rookie third-stringer Joseph Woll went 3-0-0 with a .939 save percentage in his first three NHL starts.

"Jack and Joey played outstanding," said Mrazek, who's 1-1-0 with an .877 save percentage and a 4.20 GAA in his two appearances. "I'm really happy for them. To go on a road trip with the guys and winning (games), it's always a lot happier locker room."

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said Woll will dress as Campbell's backup Wednesday when his team hosts the Colorado Avalanche (11-6-1). The plan is to have Mrazek link up with the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies this weekend to get some action when the Leafs visit the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets.

"I don't think I will think about it," he said of the groin injury. "When you feel 100 per cent on the ice, then you don't even know you had any injury."

Travelling as part of Toronto's recent trip allowed Mrazek to reconnect with his teammates — and chat up a new one with whom he'll be forever linked in hockey lore.

Having replaced injured Carolina Hurricanes starter James Reimer against Toronto at Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 22, 2020, Mrazek bolted from his crease in the second period in an attempt to win a race for the puck with bruising Leafs winger Kyle Clifford.

The two were involved in a violent collision that forced Mrazek from the game, opening the door for emergency backup goalie David Ayres, who would go on to make eight saves in an improbable 6-3 victory.

Clifford subsequently signed with the St. Louis Blues, but was reacquired by Toronto in a Nov. 16 trade, which opened the door for a conversation with Mrazek about that memorable night.

"We sat next to each other on the plane playing poker," the netminder said with a grin. "All good on that side. We talked about it a little bit. He said he was going to go for a breakaway — he was making jokes about that.

"He's a great guy."

Mrazek said it didn't cross his mind during that crucial sequence he was the only healthy Carolina goalie available.

"You don't even think in that moment that you don't have any backup," he explained. "You just go for the puck if you have to. That's what happened.

"I would go for the puck again."

Asked what he thought about how that game ended — an embarrassing night for the Leafs — Mrazek kept things light.

"I don't think we have to go through it," he replied, sparking laughter from reporters. "Do we have to talk about that?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2021.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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