TORONTO – Looking for a leg up this summer, Darryl Boyce packed up and moved back east.
There on Prince Edward Island, he found himself training at the offseason home of Dion Phaneuf.
"He called me and he said 'I don't want to impose, but would it be possible to work out at your gym?'" said Phaneuf, who makes his summer home on the island. "I said 'Not a problem at all'. I told him what time the workouts were at everyday and he was there all summer long."
From working out with tractor tires in the vast open fields to grueling bike rides in the crisp eastern Canadian air, Boyce teamed with the Leafs captain this summer for three solid months of offseason preparation.
"The way a guy like him, a big known name around the league, how he trains and prepares was this sort of eye-opener for me," said Boyce, who moved home to P.E.I. from his former offseason dwelling in New Brunswick. "I think it was a great opportunity to train with the captain and the leader of this team."
After an unexpected and largely successful run of forty-six games with the Leafs last season, Boyce is now engaged in a training camp battle with former Colorado Avalanche pivot Phillipe Dupuis for the team's fourth-line centre job.
"That's a battle-zone right there between those two guys," said Ron Wilson, following the second day of on-ice workouts at Mastercard Centre.
Boyce's rise is what you'd consider unlikely.
The 27-year-old was recalled from the Marlies in late December last season, largely expected to play one game and one game only with Mikhail Grabovski tending to his pregnant girlfriend. With a constant stream of energy and enthusiasm, the one game stint quickly grew into a year-long presence with Boyce evolving into a favourite of the head coach. During exit interviews with Wilson last spring, more of the same was preached for the 2011-2012 campaign.
"They just told me point blank that they didn't know much about me until I got here and when I got here I got the opportunity to shine and I brought that for forty-six games last year," ," said Boyce, who notched five goals and 13 points (plus-8 rating). "They just said just keep your nose to the grindstone, don't change who you are; just because you played in the NHL don't try and change your game and be a different type of person. Coming into camp I'm still trying to stay humble and have that grit and intensity to make this team again."
Training with Phaneuf was a good start. Sprinkling in more cardio work (particularly on the bike) to improve his endurance, Boyce surpassed all of his fitness testing goals from last season and is in prime shape to wrestle a job back this fall. The 26-year-old Dupuis—a strong two-way centreman with penalty killing ability—is poised to offer a challenge.
"He knows he's in a fight here for a job," said Phaneuf. "[But] he definitely worked hard and he gave himself the best opportunity by the way that he trained."
A native of Laval, Quebec, Dupuis enjoyed his first full NHL campaign with the Avalanche last season, totaling seventy-four games. Stuck behind a talented trio of centremen in Denver—Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and Ryan O'Reilly—the 26-year-old averaged just over nine minutes of ice-time, totaling six goals and 17 points. "I'm here to make a spot for myself," he said. "I'm here to make a name for myself. I want to play with this team. I want to play the entire year and I want to be good for the guys."
Matt Frattin is settling into his first NHL training camp. The 23-year-old is on the outskirts of a job with the Leafs this fall, dueling with 20-year-old incumbent Nazem Kadri for a spot on the third line. "I think I'm right in the mix," said Frattin, who played alongside Joe Colborne and Joey Crabb during the second batch of scrimmages on Sunday. "Definitely feel good out there strength-wise and speed-wise. I think I've just got to work on my defensive zone a little more, just kind of getting a little sloppy. And then on the offensive side, I'm just trying to pick corners a little too much."
The former North Dakota star nearly scored a pair during the Sunday scrimmages, but was stopped on two breakaways by former Cornell star and nemesis Ben Scrivens.
Wilson was typically coy in discussing his goaltending plans for the upcoming exhibition schedule, which includes five games in the next six nights. "I have four guys to pick from," said Wilson of a goalie mix that includes James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Scrivens and Mark Owuya. "Four guys will dress over the next three days and probably just three of them will play." Owuya is likely the odd man out for game-action. Jussi Rynnas meanwhile, suffered a minor injury during the first two days of camp and is likely to sit. Guelph goaltender Garret Sparks is not expected to dress at any point.
Reimer and Gustavsson will split the final four exhibition tilts.
As for lineups, Wilson indicated a constant sea of changes. "I've got all this stuff penciled in," he said. "Can't do it in ink because night to night things happen in terms of injuries. We made a few changes from what I had put down [Sunday] morning after watching the scrimmages the last two days, putting a couple of guys in who've earned it and taking one person out who I didn't think deserve to be in a exhibition game in the first three."