TORONTO – On Saturday night, Alexander Kerfoot made a reckless mistake.
On Monday morning, he paid for it — and owned it.
While Kerfoot was a participant in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first full practice in the Sheldon Keefe era, his friend-slash-victim Erik Johnson was a no-show for the Colorado Avalanche’s practice in Denver and is listed as day-to-day.
While giving chase on the forecheck midway through the Leafs’ 5-3 victory in Denver Saturday, Kerfoot cross-checked his former teammate in the back. Johnson crashed headfirst into the boards.
Johnson did return to action that night, but has since been replaced by call-up Calle Rosen, the defenceman ironically traded from Toronto to acquire Kerfoot as part of the Tyson Barrie–Nazem Kadri Canada Day blockbuster.
Johnson’s status is unknown, but on Monday Leafs GM Kyle Dubas pulled Kerfoot aside post-practice to inform the player he’d been suspended two games (plus docked $37,634.40 in salary) for his actions.
“First and foremost, I think I’m disappointed in myself. It was obviously a bad play. I know Johnson well, and I just hope he’s alright. I hope he doesn’t miss any time or anything like that,” Kerfoot said.
“I feel terrible about the incident.”
Kerfoot explained that he wanted to get a piece of his opponent, fearing that if Johnson rounded the net with pace, he’d break out and spark a rush the other way. Johnson temporarily lost his balance and the puck, and Kerfoot’s shove was enough to send a gasp through Pepsi Center and force the offender to immediately regret his decision.
“It’s no excuse. It’s unfortunate timing, but it was also a bad play by me. I just hope he’s all right. I’m close friends with him. I don’t mean to hurt him,” said a contrite Kerfoot. “It’s a bad spot on the ice and something I shouldn’t be doing.
“You just feel bad. You don’t want to see someone fall into the boards like that.”
There is a thin line here between the “greasy” attributes that former coach Mike Babcock lauded Kerfoot for and the type of reckless split-second decision that can earn a player his first NHL suspension or put him on pace for a career-high in penalty minutes (18 so far).
While there is no good time to be sidelined, and wingers Trevor Moore and Mitch Marner are nursing injuries, the Maple Leafs have enough depth at forward that they should be able to sustain Kerfoot’s absence against Detroit on Wednesday and Buffalo on Friday.
Since Keefe took the reins from Babcock, Kerfoot has been deployed on the wing, while Jason Spezza has been centring the Leafs’ third line.
Kerfoot made a point to apologize in-person to Johnson, a teammate of two seasons, after the game and admitted putting out a friend makes him feel worse about the situation.
“You can apologize all you want, but it’s something you shouldn’t be doing on the ice,” Kerfoot said.
“I’m fully responsible for the play.”