From Official Toronto Maple Leafs
4:45 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Francois St-Laurent and Steve Kozari. Brian Murphy and Derek Nansen will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in can watch on Sportsnet Ontario, listen on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and follow the Leafs on Twitter.
Toronto Maple Leafs
24 Holland – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov
40 Grabner – 42 Bozak – 15 Parenteau
23 Matthias – 16 Spaling – 26 Winnik
19 Lupul – 56 Froese – 25 Clune
2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly
3 Phaneuf – 20 Corrado
51 Gardiner – 46 Polak
New Jersey Devils
64 Blandisi – 14 Henrique – 20 Stempniak
51 Kalinin – 19 Zajac – 21 Palmieri
12 Boucher – 16 Josefson – 48 Kennedy
23 Farnham – 11 Gionta – 22 Tootoo
6 Greene – 5 Larsson
44 Gelinas – 8 Schlemko
25 Helgeson – 2 Moore
On his journey to this point:
Yeah, I don’t know, it goes by so fast. I was a good player when I was a kid but never one that thought I’d have an NHL career in my future, let alone a lengthy one. If I look back that far it’s a pretty big accomplishment.
What stands out from your first game?
I remember I was playing the Dallas Stars and I always loved Mike Modano when I was a kid. I remember in warmup I was just more focused on him than anything else but once the puck dropped it was just a hockey game and a lot of fun. I can’t even remember that much about it, I think I got an assist. I’d have to check.
Does this game have meaning for you now or is it something that you’ll look back on?
No I’ve never really been sentimental about any milestones or anything but as you start to get older and maybe wind down your career, you certainly look at this as a big milestone for me. Especially for the fact that I had some years when I wasn’t sure if I was going to play. I had people tell me I couldn’t play any more. It makes getting to these milestones a bit more special.
Was there a welcome to the NHL moment you can remember?
Just probably that first game. Being out there against guys that I watched on TV for so many years. Mike Modano was one of my favourite guys and playing against Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic and these guys all in the first couple weeks of my career was pretty surreal. Like I said, I don’t remember that much about it to this day but I remember just kind of being in awe. And now you look at young guys when they come in and they make such an impact on the game. I just seemed to be, for the first couple of months anyways, happy to be there. You didn’t hear a peep from me.
Can you put 800 games in the NHL into perspective with recently hitting 400 with the Leafs?
It’s very special. Any time you hit any type of milestone in the game, you look at 400 as a Leaf, that was very special to me and now, playing my 800th, it just shows how fast time really does go. It has been a journey. One that I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it. We’re very lucky to do what we do, we play a game that we love, that we grew up loving and make a living doing it. It’s very exciting to be here and to be able to say this is my 800th game but the bottom line is it’s business as usual.
What do you remember about your first game?
I remember it was a long time ago, it sure feels like it. Every one is special, the first one you remember — I actually remember my first exhibition game the most because you get drafted and you get the opportunity to wear an NHL jersey for the first time. That’s pretty special. Your first regular season game is another milestone you don’t ever forget. Every game is special, they’ve got different meanings, there’s different outcomes in all of them and that’s what’s exciting as a player. You play the game but every one is different. I’m sure tonight will be different too.
How do you think you’ve changed since day one?
I look older, a little bit. You learn a lot. I’ve definitely learned a lot over my career and as you get older you keep learning. I don’t want to stop. I want to keep learning, I want to continue getting better and I want to keep playing for as long as I can.
What’s the key to being a good mentor to younger players?
I was really lucky when I started. I had a lot of older guys, I played on an older team and the guys really helped me. I look at my first partner Roman Hamrlik, he helped me a lot, Bryan Marchment, Jarome Iginla, those guys were big keys in developing me as a player, showing me what it took to be a professional. I think that’s important.
How do you think you’ve changed over 1000 games as a coach?
Well I think every year, every day you just try to get better. Obviously experience is a wonderful thing. When you’re young and don’t have any experience you should be thinking experience is overrated, if you don’t have any why would you worry about it? I think as you get on, you understand how important it is, it helps you make better decisions. The other thing that has happened to me for sure is through my family’s support, having my kids grow up and having my kids be athletes, I’ve become a way better coach because I understand what they go through and the mental grind it can be. I think I got to be better at that.
What do you recall from your first game?
Beat St. Louis, Smirnov, Chistov and Andy McDonald were stars. Obviously my first year in the NHL was a good year. We lost to New Jersey in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final with a team that missed the playoffs by 25 points. Bryan Murray was a great general manager, a real good person, it was good to be around him and it helped you grow as a coach. I had a lot of good people on the team. I think one thing about coaching is, I’ve been fortunate to coach lots of good teams. You need good players and you need really good people. Players make you a better coach. Every experience I’ve had with good players, they see the game different than you do. If you’re willing to share with them they can teach you a ton. I learned a lot from a lot of good players.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about coaching to you?
It’s growth and development of your people. It’s the interaction, it’s being around the young people — the best in the world at what they do trying to get better. The other thing I know about players, I probably had two in my whole time in 25 years coaching that I didn’t think tried to get better. The rest try to get better every day. I think when you’re sharing something with them that they think can help them get better, I think most people are all-in. Sometimes there gets to be a point where they’re not the right fit for your team and it’s hard on them mentally, they’ve got to go somewhere else. The reality is most coaches that I know love their players and are doing everything they can to make them better. My goal as I’ve gotten older is I want to make them better people first and better players second. A little more perspective.
What attracted you to coaching?
I wasn’t good enough to play. I thought I was going to be a professor at McGill University for the rest of my life. I loved being on campus and I loved teaching. I thought that’s what I was going to do. I went to play overseas one year, I ended up being a player-coach. That gave me the experience to apply for the job. I just wanted to go to the Calgary Stampede, applying to the job at Red Deer College gave me a free way to the Stampede. I had no interest in stopping playing when I got the job. I lost my way and I’ve been doing it ever since… You think, ‘Oh this is my lifelong plan,’ and all that. I’ve got college-aged kids and one a little older than that. I always say to young people, the job you’re going to have hasn’t been invented yet. To go through struggles and figure out what your career is going to be is an important thing to do. I think your parents sometimes, when you’re an 18-year-old kid in high school, they want you to know what you want to do with the rest of your life, that’s crazy. You don’t even know who you are. Grow up, experience some ups, experience some downs, live a little. Then, if you’re fortunate and you love what you do — if you love what you do you have a chance to be great at it. If you don’t, you’re never going to be great at it.
What is your understanding of the concussion protocol and how injuries should be managed in a game?
I think when the player says he’s okay to play and keeps playing, he’s okay to play. I put an unbelievable amount of duress on my poor trainer when he’s taking some player off the ice when he should be killing the next penalty. You have no idea how kind I am during that interaction. So, this is a hindsight thing after the fact, everyone can blame everyone else, the people there, the medical people in Calgary would have done everything they could to make the right decision based on League protocol. They obviously didn’t think — Wideman played the whole game — I know nothing about this situation besides what I saw on TV so for me to even have an opinion here is scary… Well on our team when someone is unconscious or dazed or looks like they’re supposed to go to, I guess they call it the dark room or whatever. I mean, some of these things aren’t even anything and they’re going to a dark room, but that’s legal liability with the League and that’s concussion protocol. As we learn more and more you’re more and more careful with them.
How significant has Phaneuf’s role been this year in terms of mentoring younger players?
Huge. He’s a way better person than I could have ever dreamed. He’s way more committed. His off-ice living habits are fantastic. His weight room commitment, his practice commitment, his intensity, his ability to get on young guys supportively, but yet being demanding has been fantastic. He has been unreal and great support for the coaching staff.
On Darryl Sittler being honoured tonight for his 10 point game:
I watched it. Pretty cool, unbelievable. Who can score 10 points? You can’t score 10 points in minor hockey. I know I never did. I just think it’s a fantastic thing. The other thing I like about people like Darryl being honoured is when you’re around Darryl, what a classy, classy guy he is and how proud he is to be a Leaf and still be with us. People like that you can never get enough of. It’s great for our players to be around him and get a chance to talk to him. He’s a proud Leaf and wants the franchise restored to its rightful place so it’s great he’s being honoured this evening.
2:00 PM: The Maple Leafs return to action on Thursday night as they play host to the New Jersey Devils at Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs last played on Tuesday and earned a 4-3 overtime win in Boston over the Bruins. P-A Parenteau had the overtime winner, while the Leafs also got goals from Daniel Winnik, Leo Komarov and Nazem Kadri. James Reimer made 39 saves to earn the win. He’ll start against the Devils tonight.
The Devils are coming off of a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday. Lee Stempniak, Joseph Blandisi and David Schlemko scored for the Devils in the win, while Cory Schneider made 31 saves to earn the victory. The Devils have indicated that Schneider may be due for a night off and, if he gets one, Keith Kinkaid will get the start for New Jersey.
Stay tuned for projected lineups, comments from Coach Babcock and the Leafs and more.