Tyler Bozak was with the Toronto Maple Leafs for his entire nine-year career. Think about all the change the organization has gone through in that time, and it’s stunning.
The centre was there for the infamous Game 7 collapse agains the Boston Bruins in 2013. He was present during the scorched-earth rebuild, and also there for the franchise’s recent rise to prominence.
All of that is what made his piece in The Players’ Tribune on Tuesday so damn emotional.
“Being a Maple Leaf is all I’ve ever known,” Bozak wrote. “So before I leave, I just wanted to say thank you.”
The 32-year-old signed a three-year deal with the St. Louis Blues on July 1, leaving the organization he joined in 2009 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Denver.
In the Players’ Tribune piece, Bozak told the story of how Joe Nieuwendyk, then a member of general manager Brian Burke’s staff in Toronto, convinced him to play in the city. Bozak signed a two-year deal with the club and in the second game of his NHL career, was placed on a line with Phil Kessel.
The two developed a strong friendship, along with another buddy …
See, the thing you need to know about Phil Kessel is that he’s a quiet guy. O.K., you probably know that, but it’s why we got along so well, I think. We’re different. I’m a bit more outgoing, I like to crack jokes, and he’s a bit more reserved. Phil and I had the same interests. A lot of nights you’d find us on the couch, watching a game with Stella.
Stella is a goldendoodle, the light of Phil’s life.
I got to know Stella after Phil asked me if I wanted to be roommates. It was a few years after I got to Toronto, and the way he did it was totally Phil. He just said, “So you wanna live together or something, or…?” I wasn’t going to say no — he had a sick apartment downtown. It was a no-brainer.
Bozak wasn’t playing in Game 7 against the Bruins in ’13; he was injured and watched at home with Stella. “It killed me that I wasn’t there,” he wrote. “It’s hard not to think of that moment from time to time now, because I’ve been through it all in Toronto.
“I know it isn’t easy to be a Leafs fan because I was one for nine years.”
He also wrote about how much he cherished the charity and community efforts during his time in Toronto and, of course, the fans.
You all meant the world to me. Every conversation in public — even the ones where you told me I needed to be better — will stick with me. Because you cared, no matter what. And as a player that’s what you want.
Every high five, every selfie, every moment … I appreciate them all so much.
I’ll miss you guys a lot.
Bozak, who recorded 11 goals and 43 points in 81 games for the Leafs last season, joins a Blues club that has been a perennial playoff team. He likes their chances at competing for the Stanley Cup and, after speaking to former Blues forward Paul Stastny, Bozak believes St. Louis will be a good place for him and his wife to raise their young son and baby daughter.
He’s looking forward to the next phase of his career, but says he’ll be “forever thankful” for his time withe Leafs.
“You’re in good hands, Toronto,” Bozak wrote. “The next few years are going to be a lot of fun. Believe in Kyle Dubas and the talent you have. Auston, William and Mitch can do anything. Trust me, I saw them in practice every day, they’re special.
“When you’re in a place long enough, you get a feeling for how things work,” he added. “I knew this day was coming. At first, it wasn’t easy to accept that Toronto was moving on, because the city means so much to me. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t as excited as I’ve ever been in my career right now.”