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Postgame Quotes: March 31, 2016

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Thursday, 03.31.2016 / 10:15 PM ET / News

Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a sampling of what the Leafs had to say following Thursday’s loss in Buffalo.

Mike Babcock

I didn’t think we were as good (in the first period). I thought they were better than us, we didn’t execute coming out of our own zone. They were on top of us and they were better than we were. You have to give them credit for that. You’ve got to be better at the start of games. If you don’t start on time, you lose. And tonight was exactly that.

Brooks Laich

We’re not a group that makes excuses. With new guys in – maybe a couple new faces, couple new positions – it comes down to a lot of talk and communication on the ice and after that it’s just execution. We’re not using that as an excuse.

Andrew Campbell on his first game with the Leafs

It was special. I had a lot of friends and family here, so it’ll definitely be a night I remember for the rest of my life. It’s disappointing to not get the two points, but just to wear the blue and white and look down and see a Maple Leaf on your chest. Growing up idolizing that, it was pretty cool.

Tobias Lindberg on his NHL debut

I tried not to think too much and get all tensed up and lose the puck everywhere. I was just trying to have fun and do what I do good. I was very happy with my performance.

Source: Postgame Quotes: March 31, 2016

Postgame Quotes: March 31, 2016

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Thursday, 03.31.2016 / 10:15 PM ET / News

Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a sampling of what the Leafs had to say following Thursday’s loss in Buffalo.

Mike Babcock

I didn’t think we were as good (in the first period). I thought they were better than us, we didn’t execute coming out of our own zone. They were on top of us and they were better than we were. You have to give them credit for that. You’ve got to be better at the start of games. If you don’t start on time, you lose. And tonight was exactly that.

Brooks Laich

We’re not a group that makes excuses. With new guys in – maybe a couple new faces, couple new positions – it comes down to a lot of talk and communication on the ice and after that it’s just execution. We’re not using that as an excuse.

Andrew Campbell on his first game with the Leafs

It was special. I had a lot of friends and family here, so it’ll definitely be a night I remember for the rest of my life. It’s disappointing to not get the two points, but just to wear the blue and white and look down and see a Maple Leaf on your chest. Growing up idolizing that, it was pretty cool.

Tobias Lindberg on his NHL debut

I tried not to think too much and get all tensed up and lose the puck everywhere. I was just trying to have fun and do what I do good. I was very happy with my performance.

Source: Postgame Quotes: March 31, 2016

Postgame Quotes: March 31, 2016

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Thursday, 03.31.2016 / 10:15 PM ET / News

Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a sampling of what the Leafs had to say following Thursday’s loss in Buffalo.

Mike Babcock

I didn’t think we were as good (in the first period). I thought they were better than us, we didn’t execute coming out of our own zone. They were on top of us and they were better than we were. You have to give them credit for that. You’ve got to be better at the start of games. If you don’t start on time, you lose. And tonight was exactly that.

Brooks Laich

We’re not a group that makes excuses. With new guys in – maybe a couple new faces, couple new positions – it comes down to a lot of talk and communication on the ice and after that it’s just execution. We’re not using that as an excuse.

Andrew Campbell on his first game with the Leafs

It was special. I had a lot of friends and family here, so it’ll definitely be a night I remember for the rest of my life. It’s disappointing to not get the two points, but just to wear the blue and white and look down and see a Maple Leaf on your chest. Growing up idolizing that, it was pretty cool.

Tobias Lindberg on his NHL debut

I tried not to think too much and get all tensed up and lose the puck everywhere. I was just trying to have fun and do what I do good. I was very happy with my performance.

Source: Postgame Quotes: March 31, 2016

Postgame Quotes: March 29, 2016

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Tuesday, 03.29.2016 / 11:30 PM ET / News

Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a sampling of what the Leafs had to say following a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers.

Mike Babcock

I thought we played real well last night to tell you the truth, controlled much of the play and in the end their goaltender was good. Obviously our powerplay was dangerous here tonight. We didn’t do much 5-on-5 through two periods and they didn’t get much done either. There wasn’t much room that way. We were able to connect on the powerplay and good for the guys who got some points. It’s always positive to get some points.

Nazem Kadri

That’s the good thing about playing in the NHL, you get a chance to redeem yourself pretty quick. Even though sometimes these back-to-backs are pretty challenging, especially against two good Florida teams, we just found a way to win.

Connor Brown

I felt good tonight. One of those games where the puck seems to be following you. You get a point early on in the first period and you just settle in. Especially for me, just feel way more comfortable wanting to make plays. So when you get that early point or early success it really carries through the rest of the game.

Source: Postgame Quotes: March 29, 2016

Brown's journey to Leafs a tale of perseverance

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

If you’re a young hockey player who doesn’t have the physical size of some of your teammates, you’re likely to find inspiration in the developmental path of Maple Leafs winger Connor Brown. Although he’s just four games into his NHL career – and scored his first goal as a Leaf on March 24 against the Anaheim Ducks – the 22-year-old Toronto native was never a sure bet to play in hockey’s greatest league.

But where there were obstacles and challenges along the way – some of them natural, and some that came in the heat of on-ice battle – Brown persevered and now provides an example of the drive and determination required to realize a lifelong dream.

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Long before the Leafs selected him 156th overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft, Brown was making a name for himself on rinks in and around his hometown because of his understanding of the game. He was a natural athlete who, every summer, tried out for (and made) his local rep teams for soccer, baseball and lacrosse. But his focus was never far from his family’s backyard rink, a hockey stick and a puck. And his mind was always so finely attuned to the game, when he got to the bantam and minor-midget levels, he began crafting a path for himself in the sport.

However, as he progressed – first, making the Tier II St. Michael’s Buzzers in 2010-11, then the Ontario League’s Erie Otters the following season – Brown’s body didn’t grow at the same rate as his mind. And although he still impressed on the scoresheet, putting up 25 goals and 53 points in 68 games in his rookie season with the Otters, his physique took a while longer to catch up.

“Connor’s always had really good vision and hockey I.Q.,” said Brown’s father, Dan, who coached him in his formative years. “Though the latter part of his minor hockey career, his minor-midget year, he was still waiting for a man’s body to come along. That really didn’t happen until his second year of junior. Once that happened, he increased his speed and was able to gain some confidence.”

That confidence reflected in his statistics: Brown followed up his rookie year in Erie by posting 28 goals and 69 points in five fewer games in 2012-13 – and in his final OHL season, he amassed a whopping 45 goals and 128 points in 68 games. Part of that growth could be attributed to confidence, but he also spent no small amount of time working on his physical frame and with renowned Leafs development coach Barb Underhill on his skating, and he can see the results in both areas today.

“You definitely spend a lot of time in the gym,” said Brown, who spends his summers either on the golf course or at the family cottage north of Toronto. “I’m strong in the right places – core and legs – so I think I don’t get pushed around, and that’s something I’ve worked really hard at, and it’s come a long way, so it’s nice to know I can play at this level at this strength. My skating when I got drafted needed some work, but now I think it’s one of my strong areas and that’s a big testament to Barb Underhill. I’ve worked with her for about four years now. I think a lot of it comes with strength and maturity, but it’s good to see it come along.”

Brown’s first year as a professional came last season with the American League’s Marlies, and although he may have surprised some people with the numbers he put up – 21 goals (including seven game-winners) and 61 points in 76 games to finish as the AHL’s top-scoring rookie, his teammates who’ve been along for the ride and seen him improve last year and this year understand Brown’s inner fire is what separates him from the rest of the pack.

“He cares so much about what he does on the ice,” said goalie Garret Sparks, who played with Brown on both this season’s and last season’s Marlies squads, and is currently his Leafs teammate. “He takes responsibility for everything he does, he’s accountable, and he’s a reliable player who plays honest and hard and has a lot of skill to go along with it.

“You can tell how fiery and competitive he is out on the ice, but until you spend time close to him, you don’t really realize the magnitude of that competitive nature.”

“His smarts and the way he sees the game, he really can read the play,” added centre William Nylander. “He’s become more and more dominant in the AHL, and if it wasn’t for his injury, I think he would’ve been up here (in the NHL) earlier this year.”

That injury – a fractured ankle Brown suffered blocking a shot in late October in an AHL game against Grand Rapids – was the first major injury of his career. It was particularly delicate because it was on a weight-bearing part of the body, and Brown missed most of the next three months that followed. But in his return to game action Jan. 24, it was as if no time had passed, and he scored twice in a 7-1 rout of Utica.

Since then, he’s produced at nearly a point-a-game pace (15 assist and 24 points in 28 games) before he was recalled to the Leafs March 17. His first two Leafs games after the call-up were somewhat of a blur, but as most players will tell you, the key to producing at any level of the sport is comfort. And in the third and fourth NHL games of his career – in which he put up a modest point streak that left him with a goal and three points through those four games – he’s starting to get there.

“For me, it was just about getting comfortable playing with (Veteran centre Tyler) Bozak yesterday,” Connor said. “That made it much easier. So I feel like I’m getting better every game and just trying to build upon that.”

“I didn’t think his first two games went the way he’s capable of playing,” added Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. “He was a little tight. And I thought he relaxed and made some plays (against the Ducks) with Bozak and (winger Josh) Leivo.”

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Brown’s immediate future is likely to see him return to the deep and talented Marlies for what the organization hopes is a championship playoff run. But this current stretch at the NHL level is invaluable to his development, and serves as an inspiration for smaller players who haven’t developed physically yet, and a tantalizing taste of what he’ll be able to offer in the years ahead.

He’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, but Brown’s game and belief in himself makes his game much larger than that. And his brains and vision are more than half the battle when it comes to turning his childhood dreams of an NHL career into a reality.

“He’s a smart player,” veteran Leafs centre Nazem Kadri said of Brown. “He’s got hockey I.Q., he’s able to find the open guy, and if you’re producing offensively, you’re going to get more confidence. And with more confidence, you have more poise with the puck and are able to make more plays. So I think we can definitely see that from him in the future.”

“Size doesn’t exactly equate to heart and competitiveness,” added Sparks. “We’ve got some smaller guys here who’ll go up against anybody in the NHL, and they’re still young kids. So it shows a bit of fearlessness and a strong desire to be here. He grew up dreaming to be here and now he’s here, so I don’t see him letting off the gas any time.”

Source: Brown's journey to Leafs a tale of perseverance

Postgame Quotes: March 26, 2015

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Saturday, 03.26.2016 / 11:15 PM ET / News

Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a sampling of what the Leafs and Bruins had to say following a 3-1 Boston win on Saturday night.

Mike Babcock

I thought we did lots of good things. I thought we had a real good push back in the third. It was one of those nights where they really dug in and we were unable to score.

Morgan Rielly

I think we had a good first then we got a little sloppy in the next (period). We came out in the third and had our moments but we weren’t consistent enough over the course of a 60 minute game.

Nazem Kadri

It was a tight-checking game. Really didn’t have a whole lot today. They seemed to come up with a couple of opportunistic goals and that was it. We weren’t able to battle back from that.

Jonathan Bernier

Obviously they scored a big goal on the power play and I didn’t think our second period was as good as our first. On my side, there was two bad rebounds – I’ve got to make sure I control those – and they end up in the back of the net.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien

I think our intentions were good at the start of the game but we were really tight. After the first we talked about a couple things here that we need to do if we were going to turn this around. We needed to play with more energy and more confidence, and just go out there and play but do the right things. It slowly came around and after a while you started seeing our old team of before where we were working, we had layers coming back, we were pinching at the right time, we always worked above the puck. We had some great scoring chances and I think the only thing now is you hope that scoring touch to come back a little bit more. We had some great scoring chances in the third but weren’t able to finish. Hopefully that’s the next thing to come.

Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara

We played better. Simple as that. You can’t really pick one thing that we did better than all those other games. Overall I thought we were better. We were tighter defensively, better offensively, stronger on pucks, more physical. Overall I thought we had a good strong game. A good strong 60 minute game and we earned two points. We stayed patient until the end and we got a big two points.

Source: Postgame Quotes: March 26, 2015

Leafs Winning Streak Comes To An End

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs


TORONTO — Zdeno Chara snapped a 20-game goal drought with the eventual winner and the Boston Bruins ended a season-long five-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

The win created some much-needed space in the Eastern Conference playoff race for Boston, currently third in the Atlantic Division with 88 points and now three points up on Detroit.

Patrice Bergeron and Matt Beleskey also scored for the Bruins (40-28-8), while Ben Smith found the back of the net for the Leafs (27-36-11).

Tuukka Rask won the goalie matchup with 24 saves, topping Jonathan Bernier, who gave up two goals on 32 shots.

Though still last in the NHL, the Leafs entered the night with three straight wins and victories in six of their previous eight.

A quick-paced first period saw the club score first for the 25th time this season.

Fighting off Bruins defender Joe Morrow, Colin Greening gained control of the puck from a spot along the wall in the Bruins zone, firing through traffic with a shot that was tipped by Smith. The change in direction was enough to fool Rask, who allowed 10 goals in his previous four appearances.

Smith, an expiring contract Toronto landed in a swap with San Jose, has five points in his last six games.

Both Rask and Bernier were sharp in the early going.

Rask poke-checked a breakaway attempt by Leafs forward Brooks Laich at one point, and Bernier was equally sturdy with a right pad save on David Krecji after he burst pass 19-year-old William Nylander in the Toronto zone.

The 27-year-old Bernier has been rolling recently for the Leafs, stopping 115 of 120 shots in his previous four starts (.958 save percentage).

Boston beat him twice though in a dominant middle period that saw Toronto outshot 11-5.

The Bruins broke a five-game power-play goal drought to even the score at one. Torey Krug’s shot from a spot in the left faceoff circle was stopped with the man advantage, but the rebound was cleaned up by Bergeron for his team-leading 24th power-play point this season. The goal also snapped an eight-game drought for the 30-year-old, who has 29 goals on the year.

Krejci’s shot from high in the slot spurred an unlikely goal from Chara a few minutes later. Deep in the Toronto zone and zipping across the slot area, Chara pounced on Krejci’s rebound, flinging a near no-look backhand shot through Bernier’s pads.

It was Chara’s first goal since Feb. 13 and ninth this season. Chara has 121 goals since he joined the Bruins in 2006, third-most among NHL defencemen in that span.

Toronto, despite a late push, still has yet to win when trailing after two periods, dropping to 0-27-4 this season.

A former Leafs draft pick, Rask improved to 15-3-2 lifetime against Toronto. The Bruins, meanwhile, are now 6-1-2 in their last nine meetings with the Leafs.

Saturday marked an end to the Leafs six-game homestand, of which Toronto won four and lost two.

Source: Leafs Winning Streak Comes To An End

Kadri's Four Point Night Paces Leafs Over Ducks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs



TORONTO —
Nazem Kadri had two goals and two assists, including the overtime winner, as the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the Anaheim Ducks 6-5 on Thursday night.

The Maple Leafs (27-35-11) scored three power-play goals against the NHL’s top penalty kill to win their fifth in the past six games.

Toronto surrendered four unanswered goals before rallying to even the score at 5-5 on Connor Brown‘s first NHL goal before Kadri sealed it 41 seconds into extra time.

Tyler Bozak also scored twice for the Leafs, with Frank Corrado chipping in with his first goal for Toronto.

Jamie McGinn struck twice for Anaheim (40-23-10), which clinched a playoff spot by earning a point against the Maple Leafs. Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Garbutt and Brandon Pirri rounded out the attack.

Garret Sparks made 33 saves for Toronto while Frederik Andersen turned aside 20-of-26 shots in defeat.

The Ducks, who have the NHL’s top power-play, opened the scoring with the man advantage. Picked up in a mid-season trade with Buffalo, McGinn was first to a rebound opportunity in the slot and tucked the puck past the right pad of Sparks.

Bozak matched his effort just over a minute later. Playing his first game since Feb. 6 following a 21-game absence due to a concussion, Bozak fired a shot from the right point that eluded Andersen, who was screened in front by winger Josh Leivo.

The Leafs pulled in front less than three minutes later on a power play. Kadri snapped an 11-game goal drought with his first goal since Feb. 29 and 13th this season. The 25-year-old, perched in the slot, received a pass from in tight by linemate Milan Michalek, beating Andersen far side.

The puck landed on Michalek’s tape after Brown’s shot attempt was partially blocked by former Leaf Korbinian Holzer. Anaheim hadn’t allowed a power-play goal in eight previous games.

Toronto scored again on its second power play in the second when Bozak depositing his second of the night after a cross-ice pass from Kadri.

The 30-year-old nearly had the hat trick a short while later after his rebound attempt in the Anaheim crease was ultimately denied by Andersen.

Corrado, a Toronto native, upped the lead to three with about three minutes left in the second period. The Ducks struck twice though in nine seconds to pull back within one.

McGinn beat Sparks with a wrist shot for his second power-play goal of the night, joined on the scoresheet immediately thereafter by Cogliano, who batted his own rebound attempt into the net.

The Ducks completed their comeback six minutes into the third on a short-handed goal from Garbutt who outmuscled Jake Gardiner for control of the puck in front of the Toronto net, flipping a backhand shot past the blocker of Sparks.

Pirri gave the Ducks their first lead since the early moments of the first period. Acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline, the Toronto native pounced on a point shot rebound, his first goal with the Ducks and 12th this season.

Playing in only his fourth NHL game, Brown evened the score at 5-5 with less than five minutes to go. The 22-year-old roofed a backhand attempt for Toronto’s third power-play goal of the game. It was the first time all season that the Ducks have surrendered three power-play goals in a game this season.

The Leafs entered the night with four wins in their previous five games, shutting out Anaheim in the first meeting between the two clubs this season.

Ducks centre Ryan Kesler and defenceman Simon Despres both returned to Anaheim prior to the game. Kesler was forced to attend to a personal matter while Despres was sidelined by injury.

The Leafs honoured former Toronto mayor Rob Ford during the first TV timeout. Ford died on Tuesday.

Source: Kadri's Four Point Night Paces Leafs Over Ducks

TMLtalkin' – Episode 19

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Tuesday, 03.22.2016 / 3:30 PM ET / News

By Chris Lund

Chris Lund and Adam Proteau are back with episode 19 of TMLtalkin’. On this episode they recap a week where the Leafs won three of four games and look at the emergence of William Nylander. They also take listener questions on hockey and non-hockey topics alike!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.

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Source: TMLtalkin' – Episode 19

One-on-One with Sheldon Keefe

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Since the Maple Leafs hired him last June as head coach of their American League affiliate Marlies franchise, Sheldon Keefe has had his nose to the grindstone, working in concert with Marlies GM Kyle Dubas and Toronto’s entire management and development team to revitalize a farm system crucial to the NHL franchise’s future. In that regard, the 35-year-old has already experienced some tremendous successes: he and his coaching staff have sent 11 Marlies members up to the Leafs to make their NHL debuts – and at the same time, he’s kept his own squad more than competitive at the AHL level, leading that Marlies team to a staggering (and league-best) 44-14-5 record and coaching at the AHL All-Star Game.

Keefe took time out to speak with MapleLeafs.com in mid-March to discuss his initial experiences in Toronto, what he’s learned from a coaching career that began at the Jr. A level and quickly took him to Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario League before the Marlies came calling, and the challenges ahead as the organization prepares for a playoff run.

MapleLeafs.com: When you first took the job, when did the scope of it settle in for you in terms of what the challenge was?

Sheldon Keefe: I don’t know if “challenge” is the right term. I’ve looked at it more as opportunity, and I think the scope of that really came in when you had the opportunity to sit in the room and talk to people once you’re officially a part of it. My opportunities to talk with (Leafs head coach) Mike Babcock, and Kyle, and (Leafs president) Brendan Shanahan at the time before (Leafs GM) Lou (Lamoriello) had come on board – the opportunity to discuss the way the organization was moving, and with so much newness coming – for a new guy coming on board, you’re excited about where things are going.

And just hearing from them about how important my role and the Marlies organization is to where the Leafs want to go, that really made me excited about the opportunity to lead that charge at this level. So I guess that’s where the challenge comes in. Now we’ve got to get to work and this is serious stuff. And what we’re doing with these young players, I don’t take lightly for a second. But certainly, learning just how serious they were about what we’re doing as an organization and what our role is and the fact that we were going to work so closely together between the Leafs and Marlies — that really had me excited.

MapleLeafs.com: So when you get to camp then and you see the collection of young talent – obviously, you worked with young kids all the in the Soo, but in terms of their experience versus other teams at the AHL level, did you feel right away you were going to have to be teaching more than you ever had before?

Sheldon Keefe: I think we had a pretty unique program in Sault Ste. Marie in terms of how we ran things and how we tried to really work to develop players on individual basis, so I felt comfortable with what I could bring and how we could put things together here. And I felt that even more so because of the staff that was in place and the resources that are in place at this level that aren’t necessarily available at the junior level. So I had a lot of ideas and a lot of things frankly that Kyle and I have talked at length about, even dating back to our time in the Soo, just about how we felt player development should be run.

Then you come in here, and you have (Marlies’) player development staff, led by (Leafs director of player development) Scott Pellerin, with (Leafs skating consultant) Barb Underhill, (Leafs player development consultant) Mike Ellis and (Leafs player development consultant) Darryl Belfry. To have them at our disposal as people who have skill sets unique from the rest of our staff who can offer things to our players that we either couldn’t or that we have limited time available to do that in running the team, really allows us to connect with the players in different ways on a weekly or daily basis that can help them get better. That’s a big part of what the guys need.

To be able to have those resources and then pair it with a group of young players that want to get better, want to play in the NHL, recognize they’re part of the plan, it was a really good match. Because every day you’ve got a broad staff that can cover a lot of areas, and you’ve got a very willing team of athletes who want to get better. It’s a good fit from that end of it, but after saying all of that, even some of our older guys, guys that have already played in the NHL or who are still working to get there, they want to get better too. So you don’t have anyone here who’s reluctant to what we’re doing. It’s been really good that way, and having to go through it we learned a lot, and I think we’ll be able to fine-tune things through the summer and come back at it next year and stay with it with the next crop.

MapleLeafs.com: I was talking the other night with Brooks Laich about the evolution of coaching, and he mentioned coaches now talk to players about the “why” of what they’re asking players to do. How has the coaching profession changed since you were a young player?

Sheldon Keefe: I don’t know if the profession has changed. I think the athletes have changed, which in a lot of ways challenge and push the coaches to change in a lot of ways. So I do think there’s more time taken now to explain things, and as a young player myself I don’t think I was unique in that you’re constantly unsure or insecure about your position.

You have a case now where younger players really don’t accept the fact that they’re not sure, so they’ll come and they’ll ask you, and you have to be prepared for an answer, or to really, really connect with them you need to meet those things before the questions even come, to keep them engaged and keep them onside. So I think that’s just part of the information age. These players are educated, quicker and perhaps better than they ever have been, in many facets of life, and certainly what they’re passionate about the most is not immune to that.

MapleLeafs.com: When you map out the season, are you a coach that maps things out in blocks, in terms of where you want to be with the team, or are you more organic in responding as it unfolds?

Sheldon Keefe: We look at the season in blocks in terms of making a general plan or setting a foundation of what we’re going to do, but I think it’s really important to live in the day, live in the moment and in that day and then plan for the next day based on what’s best for the players individually and the team collectively. I feel like you have to make plans for what’s coming, but you have to be willing to adjust and adapt. So that’s what we’ve done.

And in particular in my first year, I’m learning a lot as we go through this and getting a feel for things. I lean on (Marlies associate coach) Gord Dineen a great deal with his experience, but I wanted to make sure I left room for myself to be able to adjust and change in terms of our schedule, our routine and what we ask from the players. So that’s what we’ve done and that’s really not that different from what I’ve done in the past. I think you just take a day at a time and ask yourself what your players need at that particular moment. Sometimes what you feel they need at that moment is the same as what you felt a month or two prior, sometimes it’s not, so you change it up.

MapleLeafs.com: It felt like when the Leafs made a lot of changes at and leading up to the trade deadline, there was a learning window with the new guys who came up from your Marlies team. Is that constant learning curve and adjustment something you’re dealing with all the time because of call-ups, injuries and the nature of the AHL level?

Sheldon Keefe: I don’t think the learning ever stops and therefore that the teaching ever stops. It’s interesting, because one of the things I have is I took a unique path to get here: a little over three years ago I was coaching at the Jr. A level, so I’ve been through different levels quickly. And having gone through that, I’ve learned that a lot of the problems stay the same. Even though the pro players are more advanced, their problems remain the same and your game can slip just the same, relatively speaking.

So the coaching and the teaching never stops right from Day One of training camp. It’s all part of coaching, and I think you’re always having to touch on things, even things we covered in October. When you don’t stay on top of it – and you can’t stay on top of everything; it’s a very complex game and schedule limits your ability to do things – little things can creep up again a couple months later. But that’s the reality that we deal with, and I don’t think any level of the game is different in that regard. Even with the small degree of exposure I’ve had at the NHL level, those players need to be coached as well, and certainly Mike does an excellent job of staying on top of everything.

MapleLeafs.com: Speaking of Mike – working with him closely now, what stands out for you in terms of the reality of Mike versus the perception you may have had of him coming in?

Sheldon Keefe: I don’t know about perception or anything like that, but I do know he’s tremendously welcoming, not just for me but for the entire staff. He shares information willingly, and that really speaks to the fact that he really values what the Marlies can bring to the Leafs. If he’s not out at our games, he’s doing his best to have a peek on video. And we talk regularly. Obviously Kyle is the great go-between with Lou, Brendan or Mike with what’s happening here on the daily. But his willingness to work – you’ve got a first-year coach coming out of the junior level versus a guy that’s at the top of his field – is such a great example.

Mike has been welcoming and has really helped me do my job in terms of understanding what he expects and knowing his language as best I can, and with me coming to the games when the schedule allows, it’s a great opportunity for me to go sit in the room, listen to the things they’re talking about and be a sponge. That’s him just telling me, you know, ‘Don’t just come and show up and watch – come down and be immersed in it all’. So that has been invaluable and that transfers onto the players because I think my connection with Babs is symbolic to our players that what we’re doing here matters. And it matters there, with the Leafs. That is one of the many benefits of having your minor-league affiliate in the same city, for sure.

MapleLeafs.com: I know even when your team was at its best record-wise, you probably still weren’t satisfied as a coach and recognized areas in which you could improve. But as you head toward the playoffs in these final few weeks of the regular season, what is your primary focus at this stage?

Sheldon Keefe: Our primary focus at this stage is to deal with adversity well, and in a positive manner that makes us better, because it’s inevitable in the playoffs that we’re going to have to deal with that. It’s one of the things we didn’t have to deal with most of the season; we tried internally to create some adversities and that’s tough to do when you are winning as much as we were. But we’re going through that now, so dealing with that in a positive manner and learning through that so we’re more prepared when it does inevitably happen is important.

I think dealing with the schedule is important as well, getting players rest is also a key. We’re at a tough point in the season here now, we’re dealing with different dynamics of having a lot of players in the NHL, of having another group of players that are maybe on the edge of their seats wondering when their opportunity might come or if it might come. So you’ve got those dynamics at play.

Then you’ve got the fact that the guys are just being ground down and tired, so we’re managing that. As we look ahead we want to be a team that hopefully play for a long time here and has a lot of hockey left, and we’re managing that. And that means getting our game really cleaned up in all areas. Little things like face-offs, special teams, we’ve really got to dial them in and get a lot better. Our play without the puck defensively, and the little things – managing the puck, managing the clock – all these things we know are vital in playoff hockey and need to be better at.

When you have the type of team that’s been able to score the way we have, it’s been able to make it such that a lot of other things don’t matter. But when you go through a stretch like we are now, the competition we have and the type of teams we’ve been playing regularly, we knew there was a challenge ahead. There was a point in time – and I can’t remember the exact number of games; I want to say it was around 40 to 45 game mark – when we stopped and looked where we were at that point in time and how we’d fared. I think we had played just over 30 percent of our games against teams that were in the playoffs. And the games that we had remaining, we had well over 50 percent of our games against teams that were in the playoffs. So the quality of our competition was changing greatly.

We knew tougher times were coming. We had to be prepared for that and we haven’t dealt with it great, but that said, two weekends ago we had two losses to Utica and a loss to Rochester, and that wasn’t a good weekend for us in many areas. Last weekend, we had a dominant effort in Portland, we’re up 2-0 nothing and play a terrific first period against Providence, and get a point out of that game and lose in overtime. And then we score first in Albany and it’s a 2-2 game with under a minute left in the third period. So we’re really close to having it be just a great weekend, but ultimately we only scored two goals in both games. That’s not enough goals to win consistently, and we did different things that contributed to the puck getting in our net. Those are the differences we need to clean up. The fact that we’re in those games and we’re close is a sign that we’re right there, but the fact we’re not on the right side of them shows we’ve still got work to do. But I’m happy those things have exposed themselves at this point in the season, because we’ve got time to get it rectified.

MapleLeafs.com: As a coach, where do you get the most satisfaction in the job – is it when you see players moving up to the NHL level? Is it getting wins? A combination of both?

Sheldon Keefe: It is absolutely when I see progress in the players – and that doesn’t always mean it’s just the guys that get called up. Seeing them perform well when I watch very closely – and our entire staff watches very closely and is anxious to see how the players we’ve worked with can step in and perform at the NHL level – is tremendous. But even here, we’re teaching and coaching every day, and you want to see progress consistently. I’ve been fortunate in that all the levels that I’ve coached at, my teams have won a lot in the regular season. And anyone that’s ever worked with me would confirm I don’t get too excited about winning games too much, but I really enjoy seeing progress in players.

In many ways, this job that I’ve been able to work in this year is a perfect situation for me, because I don’t get to measure myself on wins and losses, I measure myself on progress and players. Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs ultimately want to see us develop players in a winning environment, but if we’re winning every game but players go up and they have no idea what’s going on, or their games are to a point where they can’t perform at the NHL level and they aren’t getting better, I’m not doing a good job.

We want to make sure that every day we’re pushing and we’re seeing progress, and that’s really what gets us up out of bed and in here working long hours like we do every day – and it’s not just me, it’s the entire staff.

Source: One-on-One with Sheldon Keefe