Babcock thanks reporters for ‘digging in’ during travel drama

The Leafs coach discusses how the Matt Martin & Brian Boyle have helped his young club down the stretch, Auston Matthews continuing to impress, the value of minor league playoff experience, and being in a best of three series.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – There are millions across Canada growing anxious to tune in for the biggest game of the Toronto Maple Leafs season.

Only trouble is the weather, and later the airlines, had some other ideas.

So it was we found ourselves stranded at Pearson International in an endless sea of lines late Thursday night, without hope of getting on a flight that would take us anywhere close to here. In fact, there was no guarantee we’d all be able to secure Friday bookings that could get us to Verizon Center in time for Game 5 between the Leafs and Washington Capitals.

It was then that Mark Askin and David Hustler – the producer and technical director of Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast – took matters into their own hands.

They worked the phones. They communicated with the higher-ups. Before the rest of us knew it, another plan had been hatched and a coach bus was on its way to the airport. We didn’t board until a little after midnight, roughly 19 hours before puck drop. We didn’t even have time to recover every piece of luggage that had been checked for our afternoon flight.

Our driver, Tudy, insisted he’d had adequate rest before we got on the road.

There was plenty of space to spread out with Askin, Hustler, technical producer Mark Scott, cameraman Joel Gallant, reporter Shawn McKenzie, myself, and Nicole Burns of Leafs TV onboard. We settled in and got as comfortable as possible.

There was a stop at duty free for snacks, and a short trip into secondary screening at the U.S. border. Tudy drove us safely through the night, and the rain, and the many twists and turns on a winding highway, until the Washington Monument finally came into view at 10:15 a.m. ET.

We made it in time to attend the Leafs morning skate at Verizon Center.

“So I hear some of you struggled to get here,” said coach Mike Babcock. “Appreciate you digging in, finding a way. Good for you, that’s what I like to see.”

Flight cancellations had affected a couple others in the Toronto media corps as well. One of the columnists joked to Babcock that he was probably unhappy everyone got there.

“It’s not my disappointment,” the coach replied. “I think it’s great. We need coverage of the game.”

It wouldn’t happen without dedicated folks like Askin, Hustler, Scott, Gallant and numerous others like them. Names most hockey fans wouldn’t be familiar with.

This is not intended to be a story about an unpleasant travel day so much as it is an opportunity to give viewers a quick peek behind the curtain into our world.

It is a chance to shine a spotlight on those helping get Game 5 to air tonight while working on virtually no sleep – a devoted group of people who wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.