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The Maple Leafs practiced at Ford Performance Centre on Tuesday. 

A big Nicklas Lidstrom fan growing up, Mark Giordano grabbed No. 5 as soon as it became available with the Calgary Flames in 2006. But that number is retired in Toronto in honour of Bill Barilko.

"I found myself looking for the No. 5 water bottle a bunch of times," a smiling Giordano said following his first practice with the Leafs, "but I had to go down the row to 55 ... I haven't been really nervous for a practice in a long time, but I was anxious to get out there today."

Giordano didn't look nervous on the ice. In fact, quite the opposite. 

"I observed him a lot and it was like another day at the office for him," coach Sheldon Keefe said. "He's a pro. I mean, he's not fazed by any of this. He's very comfortable with who he is and what he's done in the league and what he brings to our team."

Giordano is still learning the finer points of Toronto's system, but already has a pretty good sense of the recipe for success.  

"As defencemen it's our job to get these forwards on our team the puck," the Toronto native said. "Today I was playing rushes and stuff and there's some super skill and some little subtle plays that they make look easy that aren't easy. It's going to be nice." 

Giordano, 38, will start on the third pair with Timothy Liljegren. Giordano already feels familiar with the 22-year-old rookie. 

"I've watched this team a lot," Giordano pointed out. "The luxury of being out West is you get to watch the early games before you play. He's a great player. There's so many young guys coming in the league with a ton of poise. I wish I was like that when I was young."

By starting Giordano in that spot, the Leafs are able to keep the other pairs together. T.J. Brodie has generated good chemistry with Justin Holl while Ilya Lyubushkin has shown promise alongside Morgan Rielly.

"Keeping things lefty-righty made a lot of sense to us," Keefe explained. "And then, at the same time, it maintains pairs that have been together."

When Jake Muzzin, who practised in a no-contact sweater again on Tuesday, returns from a concussion, that will lead to a different look. Giordano won a Norris Trophy with Calgary while partnered with Brodie and Keefe expects to put those two together again at some point. Regardless of who plays with who, the Leafs, when healthy, are now assured of having one of Giordano, Brodie, Muzzin or Rielly on the ice at all times. 

"The thing that I love the most is it gives us options," Keefe said. "Probably even more important than the options, it allows for a better and more efficient distribution of minutes to share some of the workload."

The expectation is that Giordano will be able to ace the adjustment period despite all the hoopla surrounding his homecoming. 

"Calgary was a very passionate fan base as well so it's a lot like that here," the former Flames captain said. "The other thing that helps me is I've been here and I've lived here for a long time so I know exactly how passionate the fans are about the team."

Giordano is expecting plenty of family and friends to be in attendance on Wednesday for his debut, including his parents. 

"There will be the butterflies and nerves, but it's all how you use it," he said. "You can let it affect you in a negative way, but I'll try and harness it and turn it into a positive and go from there."


Giordano showed up to practice expecting to see the traditional blue and white gear in his stall. Instead, his first on-ice session featured a primarily black kit. The Leafs will debut a new alternate uniform at their annual Next Gen game on Wednesday.  

"It's kind of nice to be part of something new like that," Giordano said. 

The Leafs will wear the first reversible sweater ever in North American professional sports. The side that the players will wear in the game features a black and blue combination with a shibori-inspired print and the Toronto skyline woven into the bands on the arms and socks. 

"It's done for the next generation of fans and I know that my kids love it," said Keefe, a father of two young sons. "I think that's the target audience they're going for and it seems to have done the trick." 

The reverse side of the sweater features a design inspired by drew house and pop star Justin Bieber with gold trim underneath and elements of the drew house motif inside the Leaf logo. 

"My love for the Leafs has always been a big part of who I am," Bieber said in a statement, "and my passion for the team, and the passion of millions of fans, is stitched into this Next Gen sweater. I'm grateful to the Leafs for the chance to team up again to create something so authentic for the team and its fans."


With Rasmus Sandin sidelined with a knee injury, Giordano will take over as the quarterback of the second power-play unit. Colin Blackwell, who was also acquired in Sunday's trade with the Seattle Kraken, will play the bumper spot with that group, which features Jason Spezza and Ilya Mikheyev on the flanks and Michael Bunting in front of the net. 

"Giordano is a veteran guy that's played the power play for a long time and had success with it," said Keefe. "Sandin has done a good job for us there but having a veteran like Gio to pair with a veteran like Spezz on that unit, there's a lot positives in that."

Blackwell didn't get consistent power-play time with Kraken, but played the bumper with the New York Rangers last season and showed potential, per Keefe. He is also a right shot like Ondrej Kase, who had been in that spot before getting injured in Saturday's game.  

At even strength, Blackwell will skate on the fourth line with Spezza and Wayne Simmonds

"Awesome," he said of the assignment. "Spezza, he's a legend of the game and so is Simmer. I played against you guys when I was with Seattle for his 1,000th game [ceremony]. Spezza's really good with the puck and Simmer's a big body and always at the net so hopefully my speed and tenacity on the puck can complement them well."

Blackwell has worn No. 43 in the NHL, but that number belongs to veteran Kyle Clifford in Toronto so he's switching to 11. Blackwell previously wore that number at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass. and thinks it may bring good luck. 

"It's where I was able to take the next step," he recalled of his high-school experience. "Came out of my shell. I got some confidence there and that goes a long way."

Growing up a Boston Bruins fan, the 5-foot-9 winger modelled his game after the similarly-sized Sergei Samsonov. And while Sunday's trade was a homecoming for Giordano, it also had big geographical implications for Blackwell. 

"Being a little closer to home makes a world of a difference," the Massachusetts native said. 

The Leafs will play in Boston next Tuesday and Blackwell is already anticipating a family reunion. He said he hasn't seen his parents in a while. 


Simmonds will draw back in on Wednesday after sitting the last three games as a healthy scratch. Keefe spoke with the veteran winger following practice. 

"In the time that he's missed we've got some real good efforts out of that line," Keefe said. "Him coming back in, we just want to see that continue. We're looking to find some stability on that line."

The expectations, specifically, for Simmonds? 

"Simplifying his game," Keefe said. "Forecheck, be physical, be a presence in the game and look to generate positive momentum for our team."  


After clearing waivers on Monday, Petr Mrazek was back at practice. 

"It never feels good," he said of the experience. "But now it's over and we move on and it's like a reset button."

The 30-year-old goalie appreciated that general manager Kyle Dubas took time to explain why the move was made. The Leafs needed to create some salary-cap flexibility and felt it was unlikely Mrazek would be claimed.  

"He's been nice to me all season," Mrazek said of Dubas. "He's been supportive. So, it's on me now to give him that back."

Dubas signed Mrazek to a three-year deal with a $3.8-million annual cap hit in the summer. The Czech native missed most of the first half of the season with a groin injury and has posted a career-worst .884 save percentage in 17 games. 

Keefe met with Mrazek before practice. 

"My message to him is it should be a full reset now," the coach said. "It's a bit of a shock to a player, an established NHL player, that goes on waivers, and then when you clear waivers it should be even more of a shock that you haven't been nearly good enough. It's an opportunity for him to really get to work now ... He's capable of much better and we do believe in him and it's time for him to really get to work and deliver on it."

When Keefe met with the media, he wasn't ready to name a starter for Wednesday's game against the New Jersey Devils. He did seem to be leaning toward Mrazek. 

"He has been through quite a bit the last couple of days," Keefe noted. "You can imagine what that would be like for him emotionally, but I liked what I saw from him in practice."  

On Tuesday, Dubas highlighted that Mrazek is able to stay confident even amid rough stretches. 

"The last few games, if you take out the Arizona game, were really good, solid from my side," Mrazek insisted. "I have to keep building from those games." 

Mrazek's poor play opened the door for Erik Kallgren to make the first three starts of his NHL career last week.

"We got a guy in Kallgren that has done a good job for us and came in at a time when we needed saves and we needed a goalie to give our team confidence and he's done that for us," Keefe said. "We can't overlook that because we've come to really believe in his ability to play for us too." 

Mrazek hasn't played since losing the Heritage Classic against the Buffalo Sabres on March 13. 

Kase did not take part in practice. 

"We'll continue to monitor him," said Keefe. "Making certain, before he gets going again, that he's feeling like himself and that they're taking the appropriate time to make sure that's the case."

Kase has a history of concussions and played just three games all of last season. 

Lines at Tuesday's practice: 

Bunting - Matthews - Marner 
Kerfoot - Tavares - Nylander 
Mikheyev - Kampf - Engvall 
Blackwell - Spezza - Simmonds 

Rielly - Lyubushkin 
Brodie - Holl 
Giordano - Liljegren 


Power play units at Tuesday's practice:  

QB: Rielly 
Flanks: Marner, Matthews
Middle/net front: Tavares and Nylander rotate 

QB: Giordano 
Flanks: Mikheyev, Spezza
Middle: Blackwell
Net front: Bunting