Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews tries to focus on job during tough week

Chris Johnston joined Tim and Sid to talk about the Auston Matthews situation and how it clouds the issue of the Maple Leafs naming a captain.

TORONTO — Auston Matthews was in his element — on the ice with teammates.

It’s one of the few places he’s been able to escape the most turbulent week of his young career.

The star centre for the Toronto Maple Leafs was once again in the spotlight at practice Friday as the aftermath of news that he’s facing a disorderly conduct and disruptive behaviour charge stemming from an alleged incident in his hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz., back in May continues to reverberate.

"I’ve still got to come to work and do my job, and do it well," Matthews said standing against a blue backdrop with the team’s media relations staff hovering nearby. "I’ve got to come to the rink, work hard and try to push that stuff aside and focus on my play."

When asked if that’s been difficult, the 22-year-old conceded, "It hasn’t been easy, but it’s something that I think I’m learning from and growing from."

Following a team day off Thursday, Matthews wasn’t scheduled to play in Friday’s pre-season game in Detroit against the Red Wings, but is expected to suit up in Toronto’s exhibition finale Saturday when the two teams meet in a rematch at Scotiabank Arena.

"There’s lots of things that happen to you in your life that aren’t particularly good," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. "It’s what you do about it after, it’s how you respond. I think that’s the key to all this stuff.

"The problem for anybody in the spotlight (is) your life happens in the spotlight."

A female security guard has said she was sitting in her locked car when a group of men, including Matthews, allegedly tried to get inside the vehicle in the early morning hours of May 26 near the player’s condominium.

In the police report, the woman said she confronted the group, who she believed to be intoxicated, and during that interaction Matthews withdrew from the conversation, dropped his pants and grabbed his buttocks.

The security guard said Matthews, then 21 years old, kept his underwear on.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and the player was not arrested.

A pre-trial conference was held in Arizona on Wednesday. The City of Scottsdale’s website lists the next court date as Oct. 22. The lawyer for Matthews and his agent have not responded to interview requests.

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News of the charge broke on Tuesday, which is when Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said he first learned of the situation — while scrolling his Twitter feed.

Despite not telling the team about the legal trouble, Matthews said he believes his relationship with Dubas is fine.

"We’re in good shape," said Matthews, who signed a five-year, US$58.17-million contract extension in February that kicked in July 1. "Obviously I made a mistake. I’m taking ownership of it, but everybody makes mistakes."

Toronto centre John Tavares, who endured vitriolic backlash from fans of the New York Islanders after he skipped town in free agency last summer, said it’s important to block out as much noise as possible in difficult times.

"Worrying about every single opinion or everything that’s said or talked about you, it’s just going to wear you out," Tavares said. "All you can control is what’s ahead of you and putting your best foot forward and learning from every experience you go through, good or bad.

"You just try and be better than you were yesterday."

Matthews has been considered one of the leading candidates to be named Leafs’ captain — a role that’s been vacant since Dion Phaneuf was traded in February 2016.

There’s a belief that job could now fall to Tavares, who captained the Islanders for seven seasons, but Morgan Rielly and Matthews remain in the conversation.

The Leafs have said they will make an announcement on their captaincy before the season. Babcock, however, had some fun with reporters Friday, promising the news between now and Christmas.

"We have a real good leadership group," said the coach. "We’ve met as a management team, we’ve met our leadership group, we’ve gone through all this stuff.

"We’re just on course for what we were planning on doing the whole time. Nothing’s changed."

Rielly, now the longest-serving member of the Leafs after Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner moved on this summer, said Tavares has fit in since Day 1.

"The way he plays, the way he lives his life is quite admirable," said the defenceman. "He’s a great person and we’re very lucky to have a guy like that.

"He’s one of those guys that just leads without knowing it sometimes just by being himself."

Tavares said it would be a "special honour" if he’s asked to shoulder the heavy burden.

"We know about the history, the tradition and what it would mean to the city and the fan base," he said. "It’s not something you can ever take for granted, but at the same time I don’t think you want to change who you are.

"You just want continue to just try to be better every day."

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