TORONTO – A bittersweet moment to begin the Toronto Maple Leafs’ morning skate Thursday.
Captain John Tavares gathered the entire team and coaching staff within frame of a camera lens as the players recorded a special video message for Rodion Amirov.
The 20-year-old Russian prospect and Toronto’s 2020 first-round draft pick has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and will not play for the remainder of his KHL season.
News of Amirov’s condition was relayed to the Maple Leafs after Tuesday night’s overtime loss in Columbus.
“Immediately, everything just kind of shifted and focused on hearing that news and on him — hoping the best for him and thinking the world of him,” Tavares explained. “So, he's deeply with us, in our thoughts and wish him the best.
“We know he's fighting hard and doing a great job staying upbeat and positive and working towards that. I know he's been skating still. That just shows his determination he has to continue on and find a way to just getting back to what he loves to do.”
Amirov’s fierce approach to his diagnosis is inspiring.
“I want to stay positive, and I want people to think positively about me,” he told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “There are many other people that have their own sicknesses or illnesses. I want to show by example that I can give people hope.”
When news of Amirov’s battle became public Wednesday, fans emailed him messages of support directly at email@example.com. The hashtag #RodionStrong kicked into gear.
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe took note and loved seeing fans and the hockey world rally in the young man’s corner.
“Our thoughts are with Rodion and his family. It’s a sad and scary situation. Everybody in our organization is offering and providing the support that we can,” said Keefe, impressed with Amirov’s I-can-beat-this attitude.
“It's a terrible situation. He seems to be handling it very well, and he's got lots of love and support around him.”
Rasmus Sandin, 21, is only one year and one draft class removed from Amirov. The news rocked the young defenceman.
“It's tough to kind of take in, too, that he’s such a young guy who has his whole future in front of him,” Sandin said. “We're all with him in this, and we want to send our best prayers to him.”
Tavares is one of the few current Leafs who met Amirov during his trip to Toronto last spring to take in the playoffs. The veteran picked up on the kid’s “great smile” and aura of positivity as he welcomed him to the Leafs family.
“You could tell his enthusiasm for being here, being a Maple Leaf, and what the opportunity presents — especially with his skill set and the type of player and potential he has to fit into our group. So, it was good to meet for the first time, talk to him and start to get to know him,” Tavares said. “But he's in good spirits and fighting hard, and we really believe in him.
“I can't imagine. Now being a parent, too, I think just even a different level of perspective on it.”
I know Rodion would love to hear from #leafsnation. Hockey aside at this point, he has a road ahead of him. All good vibes are appreciated. He is a wonderful kid, with a tremendously positive attitude. We are all thinking of you my friend. https://t.co/q2ij3W5DWe— Hayley Wickenheiser (@wick_22) February 23, 2022
<b>One-Timers:</b> Petr Mrazek starts for the Leafs versus the Minnesota Wild Thursday. ... Ondrej Kase will receive a promotion to Tavares’s struggling second line as Alexander Kerfoot slides down to David Kämpf’s third unit. ... Justin Holl will again be a healthy scratch, as will the recently recalled Kyle Clifford. ... New acquisition Ilya Lyubushkin sorted out his visa in time to play in Canada. Though he wore No. 26 in his Leafs debut Tuesday, it appears he’ll switch to No. 46, the sweater he wore with the Arizona Coyotes. ... Jake Muzzin (concussion) is on LTIR, with no timeline for return.