TORONTO - Whenever goalie Curtis Joseph plays in this city, he always fields a large number of requests for tickets. For tonight's Coyotes-Maple Leafs game, the volume of the requests is "more this time for some reason," Joseph said Friday.
Likely because his friends and family members are anxious to see their hometown hero in action for the first time in more than 3 1/2 years.
Joseph is from Keswick, Ontario, about 45 miles north of Toronto, and is a superstar here not only because of his roots but also because of what he did for the Maple Leafs franchise in the four seasons he wore its sweater.
From 1998-2002, Joseph was the driving force behind Toronto's rise from an also-ran to a contender. He twice led the Maple Leafs to the Eastern Conference finals and his name is littered in the team's record book.
But since signing with the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 2002, he hasn't played a game here either because of injury or coach's decision.
As he makes his return tonight, Joseph admits he is starting to feel some nerves.
"I get nervous for every game," he said. "You anticipate and you want to play well. Certainly (today) there might be extra butterflies."
Statistically, Joseph has not played well recently. He has allowed five goals in
four of his last five starts, and in his last start (Sunday vs. Columbus), Joseph gave up those five goals on just 15 shots.
But another statistic suggests he won't disappoint his cheering section. On the three other occasions Joseph has played on the road against a former team for the first time, he has come out a victor.
"We expect Curtis to have a great game," coach Wayne Gretzky said.
It appears more and more likely that center Petr Nedved, who was a healthy scratch Thursday for the first time in his career, won't be around much longer.
When asked Friday if he expected Nedved to be back in the lineup today, Gretzky said, "I can't answer that in a sense that we want him to play. Unfortunately right now, the situation is not great, but he worked hard yesterday, worked hard today. If he's here tomorrow, we'll see what happens, but I can't predict the future. Now it's just up in the air really."
Nedved said ideally what he'd like to happen would be "to get back in the lineup."
He added, "For me, the number one thing is to play hockey. The rest of the things will work out."
General manager Mike Barnett declined comment.