Kyle Bukauskas Notebook: Why Ilya Mikheyev is popular among Leafs teammates

Watch as Ilya Mikheyev gets by two Capitals players and scores on a breakaway.

Every other Monday, Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas will give you a peek behind the curtain and share stories about what he sees and hears in his job as a rink side reporter.

Based in Ottawa, Kyle’s notes will sometimes be about the Senators, but he’ll also include content from wherever Hockey Night in Canada takes him.

Here’s this week’s collection:

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1. When Mitch Marner came out for our post-game interview after the Leafs beat Boston on Saturday, he made the comment: “I think Mo is the guy you’re looking for!”

I, not cluing in, figured Marner was just pumping Morgan Rielly’s tires because he thought he played a great game and that Rielly should be doing the interview because of it. Of course, I realized soon after it was because Rielly wound up being credited with the goal in overtime.

I’m always amazed how much players see and dissect in real-time during a game that can be played at such a break-neck pace. While the rest of us were looking for the slowest slow-motion replay available to see if the puck did indeed glance off Rielly’s leg, Marner knew right away who had the game winner versus the Bruins.

2. One more on Marner. So, last weekend we’re in Detroit and the way it’s set up beneath the seats at Little Caesars Arena is there are lounges with glass walls so fans can see the players walking down the hallways to and from the ice.

As the Leafs were heading to the dressing room after their 5-2 win there was a young fan (I’m guessing no more than six years old) pressed up against the glass wall with a Leafs shirt and a sign that said something to the effect of ‘hey guys come say hi after the game’.

Marner saw it and immediately asked Bobby Hastings of the equipment staff for a silver Sharpie. While he waited for Hastings, Marner made sure the kid didn’t go anywhere before signing his stick and giving it to him, autographing his sign and posing for a picture.

I know Marner has a history with these kinds of gestures, particularly during pre-game warmups. It was a neat moment away from the cameras and bright lights that left a young fan with a look on his face that said, “I can’t believe what is happening.”

3. While in Detroit that day I spent a few minutes visiting with the legendary Al Sobotka, the long-time building operations manager who became famous for waving the octopus on the ice before Red Wings’ home playoff games.

He’s now in his 49th season with the Wings — when he first started they were still playing at the Olympia.

“They hired me when I was 17 and it’s a good thing they didn’t do background checks back then,” he joked.

Al turned 66 years young this week and still loves everything the job entails. On a typical game-day he’ll get to the rink at 7:30 a.m. and won’t leave until well after the game is over.

As Wayne from Letterkenny says, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”


4. Trevor Moore spent two seasons with Tri-City of the USHL where he had a coach named Josh Hauge.

When Moore attended his first camp there, Hauge was just an assistant at the time. Before a practice early that season, Hauge skated over to Moore and told him, “Trevor, you’re off to a great start this season. But, I got to tell you, if I was the one picking the team back at camp, you wouldn’t have been on it.”

A few games later Hauge took over as head coach and, by the end of the season, Moore was his most important forward.

Moore laughed when I asked him about that and admitted, “I certainly wasn’t a coach’s dream back then. All offence, not much thought into playing without the puck.”

He’s done a nice job changing that narrative.

5. The popularity of Ilya Mikheyev continues to grow among both the fans and his teammates.

On Saturday, Elliotte Friedman showed the bench reaction to his goal in Washington with Moore and Andreas Johnsson doing the soup-eating gesture.

Mikheyev’s teammates say, unlike other players who come from overseas and don’t know English all that well, Mikheyev is not afraid to try to engage in conversations and be part of team dinners and other outings on the road.

He even participates in the Leafs’ weekly NFL pick’em pool. So my question was, does a Russian who’s still new to North America have any idea what he’s doing when he’s making his picks?

“No,” one teammate laughed. “But neither does anyone else. There are no experts here.”

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6. I can’t help but smile whenever I go into the visitor’s dressing room at Scotiabank Arena when the Bruins are in Toronto.

The room is configured with stalls along three walls. On either side of the door that leads to the hallway there are two bigger stalls *usually* reserved for the two goalies.

But when Boston visits, Tuukka Rask gets one of them and Zdeno Chara gets the other. Meanwhile, backup Jaroslav Halak is stuffed in the corner.

Chara turns 43 next March and the respect he has among his teammates remains unmatched.

7. It was cool having Bianca Andreescu on our pre-game show after watching her meteoric rise this past summer and everything that came with it.

As we waited to do our interview rink-side, it was impressive to witness the crowd of people quickly start to form around us as fans tried to catch a glimpse of the US Open champ.

I wondered if any of this has started to feel normal to her yet.

“Ask me again in a year and I’ll have a better answer for you,” Andreescu laughed.

Best of luck to her at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China next week.

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