Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf says the team’s non-salute following Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning wasn’t meant as a subtle shot at fans.
“That was something that we discussed [before the game],” Phaneuf told reporters after Friday’s practice at the MasterCard Centre. “To be completely honest with you, it was something about the way we have been playing at home, our record and just changing up routine. At the end of the day, we did a lot of things different throughout the day and that was something we decided to change.”
Being in a hockey-crazed market like Toronto, the Leafs are accustomed to copious media attention and face their fair share of scrutiny, however this week has been particularly intense following two consecutive blowout losses to the Buffalo Sabres (6-2) and Nashville Predators (9-2).
During Tuesday’s loss to the Predators, another Leafs jersey was tossed onto the ice in protest of the team’s effort. Several players spoke out about that and also how they felt the media was blowing things out of proportion.
“We have great respect for our fans. We’ve got unbelievable fans, and we know how much support we have. This by no means was an attack on our fans or anything personal,” Phaneuf said. “This was about our team and changing up our routine.”
Phaneuf’s teammates echoed the same sentiment.
“This has nothing to do with our passion for our fans,” added James van Riemsdyk, who scored two goals against the Lightning, including this beauty. “I’m sorry if that’s the way it is being taken, but it wasn’t a slight to our fans.”
Forward Joffrey Lupul, who hopes to return soon from a fractured hand, said he wasn’t a fan of the salute to begin with.
“Personally I feel it feels kind of fake,” Lupul said.
Over the past few seasons, after each Leafs win at the Air Canada Centre, players have raised their sticks to salute the fans in attendance.
Phaneuf added that the team will continue to forgo the post-win salute going forward.
“To tell you the truth, I was totally unaware of what transpired until this morning,” head coach Randy Carlyle said Friday. “We did change some things up yesterday and players made the decision that they were going to do that and you support your players in these situations. It kind of overshadows the success of the win we had last night and that’s what we’re really here to talk about.”