Overnight, Zach Sill’s childhood dream became a reality, and he isn’t going to forget his first day as a Maple Leaf any time soon.
He greeted and thanked a hoard of Toronto media with a smile after morning skate Thursday, admittedly overwhelmed by the situation.
It’s faint, but immediately his East Coast accent was noticeable as he spoke for the first time as a member of the Leafs organization. Sill is the first player from Truro, Nova Scotia to suit up for the franchise.
“That is definitely an honour, I think that’s pretty awesome,” he grinned. “Grew up watching the Maple Leafs as a kid, so it’s pretty neat for me.”
For the first time in his 62-game NHL career, all with the Penguins franchise, the 26-year-old will have family and friends close by to watch his games in person.
“My dad works in Elmira [about 130km north-west of Toronto] every couple weeks, so he’s going to get a chance to see some games. I have family in Peterborough and Kitchener, and a lot of buddies here who moved up from Nova Scotia,” he said.
“It’s different for me, I’ve never played around so many family members, so it’s nice.”
The trade that brought him to Toronto caught him by surprise, but after going in and out of the Penguins lineup, the move provides a welcome chance to earn regular playing time.
“Coming here, I have an opportunity in front of me and just try and put my best foot forward and make an impression,” he said.
“I’m an energy guy, I’m a fourth liner, that’s usually not going to change. I’m not going to put up too many points, but I’m gonna give a spark when the team needs it and just try to show up every night.”
In 42 games with the Penguins this season, Sill – who’s known more for his physical game – racked up 60 PIMs in addition to his one goal and two assists. But, despite his inconsistent role with the club, Pittsburgh is still gearing up for a post-season run, while the Leafs aim for a run at the number one overall draft pick.
“It’s a little disappointing, that you’re not going to be on a playoff run with a good team, but for me it’s all about opportunity given. This team, we’re rebuilding here, and it gives a good opportunity for me in the future, if I come and do what I can here and they like me.”
His future with the club remains unclear and he may just be passing through, but Sill certainly seemed to enjoy the first moments of his time in Toronto.
Before his debut on the ice against the Flyers Thursday evening, Sill found himself sitting at his stall in the locker room smiling, wearing his No. 22 jersey for the Toronto Maple Leafs, soaking in the moment.
“This is the dream team, that I dreamt about as a kid, so it’s pretty special.”
With his parents, girlfriend, family, and friends watching back home, Sill played nine shifts in his debut, each averaging about 47 seconds in length for a total of 7:06 of ice time.
He recorded one shot on goal and one hit in his debut, joining Peter Holland and Brandon Kozun on the fourth line, and made a good first impression on Leafs interim Head Coach Peter Horachek.
“I like him. I like him as a person, he seems to be very into it and you know, he’s very motivated. I thought he did a very good job, I thought the whole line played well,” said Horachek. “I have confidence now and I think they’ve earned the right to play more and get more minutes.”
A whirlwind 24 hours, gave Sill’s NHL career a new direction; a new city, a new team, new teammates, and a congregation of media bigger than he’d ever seen. Despite everything that was thrown at him, he took it all in stride, with a smile.
“It didn’t really matter how much sleep I had last night, the adrenaline pushed me through the game. It was fun, it’s different for me,” he said. “I’ve never been on a different team, so just kind of rolling with the punches and trying to do my best.”