TRENTON – The way Mikhail Grabovski describes it, you'd think it was vital.
Not the brand which manifests itself on the ice, but the unknown and often unquantifiable type off of it. Difficult to define, even more challenging to assess, chemistry and its importance is very real to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With a rare week off early in the season, the Leafs will look to build some chemistry and to do so, they've traveled two hours east of the city to the small town of Trenton. Home to some of the best walleye fishing in the province and the vast Canadian Forces Base, team bonding is the primary function on this week's agenda.
But is chemistry off the ice actually relevant to the success of a team?
"I think it does matter," said John-Michael Liles. "When you have that bond – when you know that each and every guy is pulling their weight, pulling in the same direction – it does, it makes a difference. The best teams, the teams that have the most success are the ones that are a lot of times the closest."
Liles is one of seven new players on the Leafs roster this fall, not to mention 23-year-old Matt Frattin, who joined the team for one game at the conclusion of last season. Integrating those players into the dressing room mix is of the utmost importance for Ron Wilson. "We have a lot of new faces, kind of a different feel to our team right now, so just the time they spend together is more important than anything," said Wilson. "Just any time they can spend together, get to know each a little bit better is a good idea."
Early examples have already occurred.
On the Sunday before final roster cuts, a group of teammates gathered at the home of Colby Armstrong for snacks and NFL football. Cody Franson even made his way to Toronto three weeks before training camp began just to get to know his new teammates a little bit better. Tyler Bozak quickly emerged as a reliable ride to practice for the 24-year-old.
Without any time spent together during the preseason – the team traveled and returned on the day of games – the Leafs will look to use the three-day sojourn to further develop their familiarity off the ice. According to Wilson, captain Dion Phaneuf was chiefly responsible for the activity planning – as yet unknown – much of it aligned with the Canadian military.
"It helps," said Liles of forging an off-ice bond. "So far, [I've] been here a month and a half or so and it's been great because there's a real strong bond among the guys on this team.
"You build that bond and basically when you're out on the ice you're going to battle for everybody that you're out there with, everybody on your team. That's what it's all about – you're out there sacrificing for the guys around you."
Grabovski remembers a vastly different dressing room environment in Montreal during his early NHL days.
"Everybody made a group," he said, "and they [stayed] in groups; French guys with French guys, Czech guys with Czech guys. Here [it's] better because everybody's together. It doesn't matter what kind of nationality.
"That's better than if you're just friends on the ice."