Few, if any, can lay claim to experiencing what Travis Dermott did in the spring of 2018.
Within a matter of weeks, the Toronto defenceman had not just one but the two greatest professional hockey seasons of his 21 years culminate in bittersweet Game 7s.
First came the Maple Leafs’ blow up in Boston, in which the puck-pushing visitors seized three separate leads and still fumbled away their Round 1 elimination game 7-4. Dermott scored his first-ever playoff goal in that game, a beautiful single-effort play that involved winning a battle at the blue line after having his initial attempt blocked, kicking the puck to his blade and ripping a wrister through traffic and past Tuukka Rask.
At the time, it knotted the game at three and set the stage for Kasperi Kapanen’s second-period go-ahead goal. Boston’s four unanswered goals in the third, however, made it all moot. For all of Toronto’s defensive gaffes in that one, Dermott actually finished plus-1 but was only used 11 minutes and 20 seconds.
Seven weeks later came the AHL Marlies’ run to the city’s first pro hockey championship in 51 years. Once the Leafs cleaned out their lockers, Dermott was loaned back to the farm team for the playoff push, but a nagging injury prevented the top-pair from dressing for championship Game 7 versus the Texas Stars.
Opting not to participate in the biggest game of his life, Dermott says, was the most difficult decision of his career. A decisive 6-1 victory, however, quickly eased his mind.
“It was tough. You go into that with the little injury that I had and you’re kinda thinking, ‘If I wanted to gut it out, I could.’ But I didn’t know if I trusted myself with how much I could handle,” Dermott says.
“So I put all the reins in [Andrew] Nielsen’s hands, and he did good. He helped the boys out in Game 7, and they pulled through seamlessly — as you could see by the score. It was a tough decision to make, but once the boys got up a couple, it was like, ‘All right, that was the right choice.’ Especially when you’re raising the Cup, you realize, yeah, you miss out on one game, but it’s worth it. If we’d lost and I didn’t play that much, I would’ve felt pretty guilty.”
Dermott threw on a sweater, slapped on a winner’s cap, stepped on the ice to party with his pals, looked at a camera and delivered the best celebratory quote of the night. Watch, please:
Three days after the champagne dried was Father’s Day, so Dermott stole a few hours with the Cup “for my dad,” the first person he reached out to on that cold January day he discovered he’d made the show.
Then Dermott and his girlfriend jetted to Mexico for a couples getaway with Cup-winning goal-scorer Mason Marchmant and his better half. “It was warm there by the time we were done playoffs here,” Dermott smiles. Also: He always smiles.
The nimble, offensive-minded defenceman was at his parents’ home on July 1. Not unlike the rest of Leafs Nation, he was magnetized to his smartphone, monitoring the John Tavares sweepstakes.
“I got four notifications right away from Sportsnet apps or whatever. I was like, ‘Wow!’ I don’t think many people expected it, but it’s a great addition, obviously,” says Dermott, who’s faced Tavares twice and is hoping never again. “He’s such a great captain.”
The installation of the Tavares wooer, 32-year-old Kyle Dubas, as Maple Leafs GM draws an even more enthusiastic response from the young player. Championships — yes, farm-level ones — bind.
“Oh, it’s awesome. That guy’s been great to me the whole time I’ve been with the Leafs organization,” Dermott says. “He cares more on a personal side than I’ve seen before with a GM. He really cares about you as a person and your relationships and your life — all that before hockey.
“Hockey comes second to him. He cares about you as a person first, and that’s great to see. That’s a guy you can relate to more than anyone else, really—a guy that cares about you genuinely, not just what you bring to the team. Having him around will be great for the team. And just for myself, having him around, there’ll be a comfort level. I’m used to having him around. He’s an easy guy to talk to.”
Travis Dermott is a Calder Cup Champion pic.twitter.com/6DP1CXOm6O
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) June 15, 2018
The Leafs have been careful with their 2015 34th-overall pick. Coach Mike Babcock likes his prospects to arrive “overripe” so they stick. So despite Dermott’s impressive performance during 2017’s preseason, he needed to wait another half-season to break through. Once called up, however, his fixture in the lineup looked undeniable. Despite hopping into the league mid-stream, the rookie put up 13 points in 37 games, and his possession metrics (54.5% Corsi at even-strength) made the reddit boards drool.
“I was really impressed with Dermy in training camp,” says ex-Leaf Dominic Moore, who invited Dermott to his Smashfest event earlier this month. “I didn’t really know much about him, but once I saw him, man, he’s really agile and plays a pretty aggressive style for a D-men.
“He had some growing pains at times, as you would expect from any defenceman, but he’s a great athlete, and he’ll continue to get better. He’s a really good player, and he’s got a great attitude in terms of he wants to be a difference-maker.”
In order to become that, however, the left-shot Dermott must take a couple minutes from a 2017-18 top-four workhorse like Jake Gardiner — who topped all Toronto D-men in ice time (22:32) and is one of the few core Leafs signed before the Shanaplan — or play more shifts on the right side.
Despite his knack for the net, Dermott averaged just 35 seconds of power-play time per night, although it’s difficult to make a case against Morgan Rielly and Gardiner since each are coming off career 52-point seasons.
Entering the fray this September will be righty prospect Justin Holl. The late-blooming 26-year-old shone in the Marlies run and scores in every NHL game he plays. With trusted veteran Roman Polak signing in Dallas, it says here that Holl is about to battle Connor Carrick for the right side on the third pairing.
“Can Holl crack the roster this fall?” we ask Dermott.
“I’m not the guy that makes that decision, but I’ve played with him a fair amount. I know he’s an unreal defenceman, very skilled. He’s very determined to get where he wants to get in life. He’s a real smart guy,” Dermott replies.
“I’d hang out with him even if he didn’t know what hockey was. He’s just that kinda guy you want to be around. He makes you feel better about yourself. In a hockey aspect, he’s a guy you want on your team. When the time matters, he’s the best he can be. He’s someone I’d want on my team. Going forward, we’ll see what spots are available, but I’ve love to have him.”
Healthy, refreshed and enthused by what’s to come, Dermott is back training daily at MasterCard Centre, the club’s practice facility, pushing himself toward his first full season in the bigs.
“Just getting back into the groove of things,” he smiles. “Trying to get better each day.”