A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. So, tell me true. Are you guys for snuba?
Mitchell Marner is.
After a wild rookie season that climaxed with his first taste of playoff action and a silver-medal shootout at the IIHF World Championship, the Toronto Maple Leafs waterbug took a five-day vacation with his family to kick back and relax in the Bahamas.
“We went on this snuba thing — snorkeling and scuba driving — which is pretty cool. We did that for a day. And in the park they have a tank full of reef sharks and you can swim with them, so we did that as well,” Marner says. “We did some cool things, but if we had a couple more days, it would’ve been nice to do some deep-sea fishing.”
Wait. Back up. We know the Leafs enjoy a good fishing trip. But you swam with sharks?! Were you nervous?
“Yeah. I was nervous. With the tanks we were in, you see deception in their eyes. You don’t really know where they’re coming from. The shark switches angles all the time, which is kinda weird.
“It’s about 20 feet down, so we float all the way down and kinda walk around from down there. They’re six to eight feet long—pretty big, but they’re bottom feeders. They’re not really going to harm you unless you put your hand in their mouth.
“They recommend not touching them because the goggles you’re wearing is like a mask that throws off your eyesight. One touch could be in their mouth, and that’s obviously a situation I don’t want to be in.”
Agreed. Not an ideal situation. You need those hands, Mitchell.
2. So what if Zdeno Chara will be 41 years old when his contract expires this spring? The Boston Bruins‘ top defenceman says he definitely wants to play another season, then another probably, and another…
“Maybe he’ll play forever,” says 19-year-old rookie partner Charlie McAvoy. “He’s going to be the next Jagr. He’s in tremendous shape. He takes care of his body like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
McAvoy savoured his six-game, into-the-fire call-up for the Bruins playoff series last spring, but what impacted him most was watching Chara, who led all Boston D-men in time on ice (a silly 28:45), killed penalties, and displayed no signs of slowing down — in McAvoy’s eyes, at least.
“Big Z sat next to me in the locker room at practice, on the road, at TD for home games. Everywhere I was, he was right next to me,” explains McAvoy, perked by the line of questioning.
“I can’t even find words. I’ve watched that guy my entire life. He was in the NHL before I was born. He’s an unbelievable person. Everyone on the team thinks the world of him. He’s our leader. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer.
“I credit him for the success I had because he made it so easy. Communication—he’s a huge talker on the ice, which is awesome. When the game is that fast at the NHL level, it’s something you need to stress, talking. He said, ‘If I call for it, trust. Throw it to me. If you call for it, I trust you.’ ”
3. Dominic Moore was impressed by the phone call he received from Auston Matthews shortly after signing with the Maple Leafs in free agency.
I asked Patrick Marleau which of his new teammates was the first to reach out to him when he signed a day later. He paused to think and said he wanted to get the answer right. Then he said Morgan Rielly, who wore an ‘A’ last season and is a safe bet to do so again.
I relayed Marleau’s answer to Rielly and loved his response. Certainly, the Leafs brass will, too.
“That’s what we all do. He might’ve used my name because it was the first one that came to mind. I’m sure if I was the first, it was only by a matter of minutes,” Rielly said.
“We’ve got a good group. We just want to make everyone feel comfortable. There’s guys on every team that do that when you get a new guy whether it’s via trade or via signing. You want to reach out and offer your help. He’s never lived downtown before; he’s probably curious where other guys live. So you want to reach out and help where you can. I’m not the only guy in our room that did that. It’s important.”
4. Tough break, literally and figuratively, for Colin White this week.
The Ottawa Senators centre broke his wrist by getting in the way of a slap shot in the waning minutes of a pre-season blowout. This is a guy whose already realistic shot of making the big club was heightened with centre Derick Brassard sidelined as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
“I’m sure I’ll get a chance right away if he’s out,” White told me prior to training camp.
White tries to model his game after Patrice Bergeron’s two-way dominance. Because they’re represented by the same agency, White has met Bergeron twice and picked his brain for faceoff tips.
“I’m not gonna give my details up here, but he was very helpful and it was awesome,” said White, who benefited from his front-row seat during the Sens playoff run. He only saw 2:39 of total playoff ice time, but…
“Just seeing those guys go through that day in, day out, go through that grind, I just watched everything they did,” he said. “I took it all in so I could bring it home with me in the summer and learn from it.”
One of White’s goals is getting into the lineup for the Canadiens-Senators outdoor game on Dec. 16. His wrist should be healed by then.
5. If Brandon Saad’s pre-season hatty doesn’t do the trick, rookie Alex DeBrincat is on a mission to help Chicago forget that it cut ties with the Breadman.
Supplanting Artemi Panarin on the Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz line, DeBrincat also sniped in his first exhibition look and could be a sweet fantasy sleeper if he can stick with Kane.
“That’d be pretty cool, playing with a guy like that,” DeBrincat says. “I played with some pretty skilled players in Erie. To play with him would be incredible.”
Those “pretty skilled” Otters players were Connor McDavid, Nick Baptiste and Dylan Strome—a quartet of future NHL forwards, DeBrincat says, who spent all their off-ice time together in junior.
Strome was the first person DeBrincat texted on draft night when the Blackhawks picked him.
“He said, ‘It’s a great team to go to and definitely fits your style of play,’ ” DeBrincat recalls.
That style of play, according to the 5-foot-7 right wing, is the same as Brendan Gallagher’s.
“He likes to get in the dirty areas and score the dirty goals. He’s definitely a good guy for me to model my game after, being small. I’m not shying away from anyone,” DeBrincat says.
As for his relationship with ol’ OHL pal McDavid, DeBrincat says, “We’re good friends. We try to talk as much as possible, but he’s a pretty busy man so it’s hard to get a hold of him.
“I was actually with him a few weeks ago, and he was telling me, ‘You gotta treat your body right. You gotta eat right. In junior it doesn’t affect you, what you eat. At the next level, you need to take care of your body.’ ”
6. Kismet had DeBrincat open the pre-season versus his favourite team growing up, the Detroit Red Wings. As a kid, his NHL hero transitioned from Steve Yzerman to Pavel Datsyuk.
Meanwhile, in Russia…
Old man Datsyuk is leading the entire KHL in points (18), followed by SKA St. Petersburg teammates Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev (17 points apiece).
The defending champions broke their own KHL record this week by winning 13 consecutive games to start a season.
Any country other than Russia for Olympic men’s hockey gold must be considered an upset, right?
7. Mike Babcock has been comically stingy with his praise over training camp. His team is off to a losing start. The games don’t matter, but the tone-setting does.
Calle Rosen and Travis Dermott were the only players he liked in Game 1; Jake Gardiner and Marleau got the only thumbs-up in Game 2.
If you’re like me and believe Dominic Moore gets the fourth-line centre spot over Miro Aaltonen (to start, at least) and Curtis McElhinney won’t lose the backup role to Garret Sparks, the only vacant opening-night lineup spot would appear to be the third-pair LD beside Connor Carrick.
Martin Marincin looks like the odd man out of what’s become a three-horse race.
“Keep watching. I’m gonna watch [Andreas Borgman] and Rosen and Dermott a ton, then it looks like we’ll decide,” Babcock said.
8. It’s one thing for Brad Marchand to call out the strict enforcement of the faceoff rules. It’s another for Mike Babcock to do it.
“They’re not keeping it up like that, are they?” Babcock said incredulously. “This is what I’d ask you: Is it competitive? Is it ball hockey where you slap the stick three times and you go get the ball? That’s what it looks like, does it not? They want it this way, but I still think it’s supposed to be a competitive situation. I don’t know if it is anymore.
“The onus is on the players to learn how to play. The faceoff one, I haven’t figured out myself. Someone’s gonna explain that to us.”
Those quotes arrived after Tuesday’s Leafs-Sens pre-season game. During one faceoff, Leafs winger Kerby Rychel was sent to the box for a violation, then the Ottawa player was also tossed. Moments later a puck was whizzed right at the linesman and nearly hit his ear. The ACC crowd cheered loudly.
“I think I got kicked out of more than I took,” said Tyler Bozak, Toronto’s quickest draw man, noting that the linesman is also looking at the wingers’ position so they can’t creep in.
“I’m not a huge fan of it myself, but it’s something we have to deal with,” Bozak said, matter-of-factly. “Over the years, you learn how to cheat as best you can. It’s a skill to cheat and get away with it, but that’s not going to happen anymore. I think the linesmen are learning, too.”
Let’s be real, Tyler. They won’t really be this strict on Oct. 4.
“From what we’ve been told,” Bozak said, “it is going to keep up.”
9. If you don’t follow him on Twitter, you may have missed former referee Paul Stewart’s response to the pre-season rules crackdown. Stewart officiated 1,010 NHL regular-season games, 49 playoff games, and the 1987 Canada Cup.
Here is his strong take on the situation:
Be part of solution. Train to be official, pass Rule Book test, deal w/ bosses who never officiated & ever-shifting directives. Then preach.
— Paul Stewart (@PaulStewart22) September 21, 2017
Position is NHL puts officials in position to fail. Doesn't help when officiating "leadership" is spineless & simply kowtows to own bosses.
— Paul Stewart (@PaulStewart22) September 21, 2017
10. Babcock raved about Jake Gardiner this week, saying the change in his game has been “night and day,” more than any other player in the organization.
“He’s gone from a guy who didn’t have any confidence to maybe our best D with and without the puck,” Babcock said.
Gardiner married his girlfriend, Lucy, over the summer. (“Nice to watch Jake take the next step,” Rielly smiled.) Gardiner has never looked more comfortable on or off the ice. He’s purposely added muscle so his point shot will be heavier on the power play.
Prior to training camp, Gardiner was saying hello to members of the media after informal skates, greeting them first. A small thing, sure, but it was noticed.
He appreciated Babcock’s compliment.
“It’s nice to hear, for sure. I’m just trying to get better every day,” Gardiner says.
“You see it with every single player—when someone has confidence, they’re obviously better. When he first got here I was a little unsure of my role. Now I know what that is, and I’m doing better because of it.”
Babcock doesn’t say much by accident. I wonder if his calling Gardiner maybe the Leafs’ best defenceman — though not untrue — is also a challenge to Rielly.
11. Logan Brown, the Senators’ 2016 first-rounder, has looked nothing short of awesome in camp. You wonder if the White injury gives him an outside shot of making the club instead of going back to the Windsor Spitfires.
Ottawa ranked in the bottom third in offence, and this dude can create and shoot.
“Last year the problem was his pace, his speed. I think he’s improved that. He’s worked hard. He’s more in shape. If you look at the rookie camp, he did very well,” coach Guy Boucher said.
“This guy is a brilliant hockey mind in terms of vision and making plays and having poise and protecting pucks. For him, it’s more about: Can he keep the pace for 60 minutes? Right now, he’s showing us that he might be a little closer than we thought, but there’s still a long ways to go.”
12. One more sad pre-season injury tale, this one from Montreal.
Noah Juulsen, a big, promising right-shot defence prospect, is out six weeks with a foot injury.
Before he went down, Juulsen told me he saw the Mikhail Sergachev trade as giving him a leg up on his bid to make the show.
“It’s kinda good for me in a way. He’ll do well anywhere, but it kinda took some pressure off my shoulder,” Juulsen said.
“There’s a lot of pressure on you to do well. Once you go to a camp, you kinda realize you have more work to put in than you thought. There’s always a shot you can play, so just work hard and hope for the best. I want to play pro, whether that’s in Montreal or [AHL] Laval.”
Asked whom he models his game after, the Abbotsford, B.C., native’s answer blew me away on a couple of levels. Not the least of which was making me feel old as hell.
“Kevin Bieksa. Being a Vancouver kid, it’s who I watched. I liked the way he played,” Juulsen said.
Strange coming from a guy who put up 12 goals and 34 points in 49 games from the Everett Silvertips blue line last season.
“I’m more of a stay-at-home guy who plays a shutdown role,” he explained. “I have an offensive side to me, too, but more shutdown than anything.”