TORONTO — In their quest to make the best of this unprecedented summer training camp, the Toronto Maple Leafs inadvertently went offside.
Rival teams took notice when Toronto brought two referees and two linesmen on the ice during Tuesday’s practice session, and issued complaints to the NHL.
While it’s common to see officials used in camps before the season, the teams felt it wasn’t fair for only one to be permitted to do so at a time when everyone is being asked to operate under strict health restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those restrictions is an edict that only 20 non-playing staff can be in a team facility at any one time.
The NHL agreed with that view even though the Leafs had confirmed negative coronavirus tests for the officials a day ahead of time, and ultimately decided it wasn’t “comfortable” with exposing the players to those not subject to its Phase 3 protocols, according to a source.
The Leafs were instructed to stop using the referees and linesmen immediately and didn’t voice any opposition to that ruling.
“Apparently some people around the NHL are paying attention to our media reports here in Toronto,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, with a chuckle. “I think there were some people around the league that perhaps liked the idea that we had referees but didn’t like the idea that maybe they didn’t have the same available to them.
“We had to make an adjustment and we’re perfectly fine doing that.”
During Wednesday’s scrimmage, Marlies head coach Greg Moore served as the on-ice official — dropping the puck for faceoffs and even awarding a penalty shot for a tripping infraction.
That kicked off a best-of-five series between Team (Frederik) Andersen and Team (Auston) Matthews which will run throughout camp in an effort to replicate game-like situations as closely as possible. No detail was spared, including having music played during stoppages and a horn sound after each goal.
Originally, that’s why Keefe decided to invite a couple American Hockey League officials to take part as well.
“Any time we’re doing any sort of scrimmaging, we’d like to have the officials involved if we can,” Keefe said Tuesday, before the NHL’s ruling. “Certainly the professionalism of the faceoffs and the way that things were called, we missed having them on the ice. Just the fact that you have four extra bodies out there, that in itself is different and I think it’s important.
“We’re trying to get up to speed to game feel and intensity and all those things as quickly as possible.”
The Leafs are preparing for a best-of-five qualifying round series with Columbus and will only have one true exhibition game beforehand.
That goes July 28 against Montreal.