By Harlan Nemerofsky
Toronto Maple Leafs restricted free agent Cody Franson has yet to be signed, but that isn’t stopping him from going to training camp.
The six-foot-five defenceman took part in the Ryerson men’s hockey practice on Thursday, Sept. 19 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Franson began training with the Rams a week earlier and expects to train with them until he signs.
“Obviously coming to the [former] Gardens is cool.” Franson said. “I grew up a Leafs fan and I’ve always wanted to see the inside of the building, so it’s been a real privilege to be able to practice here.”
“It’s pretty much my [training] facility now.”
In the event he couldn’t sign by the beginning of Leafs camp, Franson said he started looking for different venues to train at. Franson’s strength trainer knew Ryerson head coach Graham Wise, which paved the way for him to join training with the Rams.
Franson scored 29 points and was a plus-four in 45 games last season for the Leafs, as the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“It’s a lot of fun to be training with [the Rams],” said the Sicamous, B.C., native. “I’ve got to know these guys over the last week and a bit here so I’m starting to feel comfortable coming in every day.”
For their part, Rams players were thrilled to have Franson training on the ice with them.
“He can show our defencemen how to move the puck hard and how to make the game simple and how to be intense,” said second-year right-winger Michael Fine. “So I think we just have to soak all that in like a sponge.”
“For the most part, I don’t think he’s going 100 per cent but there are definitely times when he turns it up a bit and makes us look dumb out there.”
Defenceman Brian Birkhoff said he was able to learn a lot from Franson, despite their different approaches to defence.
“We’re not the same player so it’s tough to try and play exactly like him but the passing or the patience or the heads up plays, I’ll try and do the same stuff that he’s doing,” said Birkhoff. “I personally believe that he’s helped us. Anytime there’s an NHLer out there you want to beat him, so it gives us an extra level to compete and it gives our defencemen the drive to show him up.”
Coach Wise, who has seen the likes of Joel Ward, Curtis Joseph and Eric Lindros train with him in over 27 years of coaching between Ryerson and York University, says that having NHLers “always draws the best” out of his players, but that he won’t be giving Franson any elite-level status.
“I just treat him as the same as the rest of the players [during practice]. We’re not going to change because Cody’s here,” said Wise. “Our number one priority is obviously preparing our team. “
“He is welcome here anytime we practice. But I hope he doesn’t show up tomorrow because it would be a good thing for him- that means he’s signed. If not, he’s welcome here.”