Mitch Marner will headline Saturday night’s Maple Leafs Watch Party that will replay the Next Gen game from Dec. 23, 2019 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Join Marner, Jason Spezza, hosts David Amber, Jeff Marek and Steve Dangle, and other special guests at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT on Facebook and Youtube.
It was a day for the kids.
The Next Gen game at Scotiabank Arena between Carolina and Toronto was the last one scheduled before the Christmas break and took centre stage. The Leafs were coming in on a good note, winners of their past four in a row, but were going up against a hot goaltender as well. James Reimer was 6-1 in his last seven road starts with a 1.57 GAA, .950 save percentage and two shutouts.
But it didn’t take long for the Leafs to make it look like this was going to be a one-sided runaway. Just 30 seconds into the game Jason Spezza had made it 1-0. A short few minutes later Toronto had a three-goal advantage and Reimer had been pulled. It was the earliest he had been yanked from the net for non-injury reasons in his career.
And that was just the start.
Considering these two teams also came together for the very memorable moment when David Ayres, aka the EBUG, entered the crease and won a game in February, you’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten how utterly unpredictable and wild this match from December was. If you thought the Leafs were going to demolish their opponents from this point on, you were wrong. Carolina pushed back in a big way, scoring a couple times in the first period to answer, and they held a 5-3 lead after two. Toronto, in fact, played like a different team at various stages of the game.
There was one point they went over half a period without registering a shot.
This game included some crazy highlights and stats. A goalie made a save without a blocker and a stick, it had been 13 years since Toronto scored as many goals as they did in this one, and at the time Carolina had a 15-0-0 record when leading after two periods… and we all know that didn’t stand up.
Because Mitch Marner happened.
Marner himself broke out of a bit of a home slump. It had been 10 games since he’d scored on home ice, but the role he played in the third period gave him first-star status. If you’ll recall, his goal came off a beauty of a pass from Auston Matthews, which is perhaps still the prettiest set up of the season.
That goal gave the Leafs new life and set up what would rival the EBUG situation for the wildest single minute of action in Leafs hockey this season. Marner’s tally pulled the Leafs to within one of the lead, but 59 seconds later they’d be the ones in the driver’s seat.
Marner actually left the ice for a few seconds after his goal and then returned to help the Leafs put some pressure on in the offensive end. A few chances went by and then Marner was left with some space to handle the puck.
With the game now tied, Marner and his linemates remained on for the centre ice faceoff. If you thought things were about to settle down here, well, you hadn’t been watching the rest of the game to this point. The unpredictable had been occurring all game — the kids couldn’t have picked a more exciting one to call their own.
It took only six seconds for the Leafs to re-take the lead and by now you can guess who was the centrepiece of the completed comeback.
Ultimately the Next Gen game was decided in this wild and crazy minute of action led by Marner, but there was so much more to the story here. The swings back and forth before Marner’s heroics were incredible and there was a key penalty kill in the final minutes that Marner himself watched from the box.
“We didn’t sit back,” he said after the game. “We know our team has the ability to come back from every game. Freddy made some huge saves there. Our PK had a huge kill there in the third.”
“It’s fun,” Marner told Luke Fox’s son Will, who was helping the old man cover that game. “It got a little high scoring there at the end, but it’s fun for the players. I think it’s fun for the crowd. I’m sure the coaches don’t love it as much and the goalies don’t, but it’s a big win for us. We’re happy with it.”
You can re-live this game again tonight through Sportsnet’s watch party. Starting at 9 p.m. ET, join hosts Jeff Marek, David Amber and Steve Dangle on Facebook and Youtube as they’re joined by the man of the minute, Marner, and other guests as they sort through the unpredictability and utter craziness all over again.