‘Just joy’: Tavares’ dramatic milestone moment saves Maple Leafs a point

Bo Horvat potted the overtime winner, and Noah Dobson collected three assists as the New York Islanders defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.

ELMONT, N.Y. — Joe Tavares leaped high, his body shaking, his eyes wide as saucers, both his welder’s fists punching the Long Island air. 

The normally stoic father of the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ normally stoic captain hollered in jubilation five times in five seconds, a rare and cherished snapshot of unbridled pride.

A dad watching his son make history.

For John Tavares had planted himself net-front at UBS Arena, the new home of his old team, and got a piece of William Nylander’s desperation shot with Toronto goalie Ilya Samsonov pulled for the extra attacker. The puck bounced off Tavares and onto the blade of Morgan Rielly, who slammed in the tying goal with just 6.7 seconds remaining in regulation.

Joe wasn’t the only one jumpin’.

[brightcove videoID=6342817906112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

The Maple Leafs swarmed Tavares in hockey hugs, and the visiting bench cleared in celebration of the steady centreman’s 1,000th career point.

“It was just joy,” Rielly said. “Just overwhelming happiness — and it was a big point in the game.”

A small group of Leafs, Rielly revealed, had been informed pre-game that once Tavares hit 1,000, the team had the green light from the league to hop the boards and mob the moment. But because all those in the know were on the ice already, pressing 6-on-5, Rielly had to wave on his teammates.

The New York Islanders posted a congratulatory message on the Jumbotron honouring their former captain’s accomplishment, yet the boos choked out the cheers as Tavares politely saluted the community he loved and left.

Considering the location, the audience, and the last-minute drama of it all, Tavares’ milestone packed all the feels of a Disney flick. (Sure, the Leafs lost 4-3 to the New York Islanders in overtime, but on a night like this, that detail gets regulated to footnote status.)

[brightcove videoID=6342820478112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“Against ex team, this looks awesome, yeah?” Samsonov said. “You see it just in the movie probably. Just to see in real life, we’re so excited for him.”

Added Auston Matthews: “On the fathers’ trip with his dad in the crowd, I mean, it’s tough to write a better script.

“That’s what it’s all about. He means so much to this team. As our captain, as our leader, he’s our guy. So, it’s always special to be a part of moments like that and, you know, things you’ll remember for a really long time.”

[brightcove videoID=6342817418112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Forever preparing for his next game and seldom eager to reflect on the 15-year NHL journey that allowed him stack all those 70- and 80-point campaigns with the Isles and Leafs and become just the 98th player in league history to hit four digits, Tavares allowed himself a moment to feel proud, of himself, of his family.

“Yeah, really special. Just everything you go through, through childhood, adolescence, and obviously, living a dream playing in the NHL, [reaching 1,000] in a place that I spent nine years of my life, family and my dad coming down here to visit, being a big part of that,” Tavares said.

“Having him here was tremendous, especially [because] he wasn’t there for a lot of my minor hockey days.”

As is customary every time Tavares returns to Long Island, the former Islanders captain was booed lustily and relentlessly every time he took the ice for a shift, the volume of the scorn ratcheting each time he touched the puck.

Yet, Joe’s son put his head down and went to work. 

Tavares’ deft, backhanded tip goal in the second period helped channel the Leafs’ comeback from 3-1 deficit and marked point 999, and his late drive to the hard area in front of Ilya Sorokin’s crease helped his group salvage a standings point on a night Toronto wasn’t at its best.

Taking a minute to imagine what Joe must have felt in the moment Rielly’s shot hit the net, coach Sheldon Keefe, a father of hockey-playing sons himself, couldn’t find the words.

“It’s hard to fathom just having a son play in the NHL, let alone be the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and get 1,000 points — and he’s still gonna play in the league a long time,” Keefe said. “So, it’s pretty special. Pretty remarkable.”

Pretty tremendous.

Fox’s Fast Five

• Unlike last year’s fathers’ trip, which only permitted plus-ones for players, all members of the organization were encouraged to bring their dad or mentor for the Leafs’ three-night stay in Manhattan.

That includes Keefe’s dad, Brian, who coached a young Sheldon in hockey and soccer and only recently stopped coaching minor hockey in Brampton, Ont.

“He just hung up his whistle a couple of years ago,” Sheldon says. “He loves the game and gives lots back to it.”

How was Brian’s coaching style when Sheldon was a youngster?

“He yelled a lot. He very loud. Very aggressive. No nonsense,” smiles Keefe, who had loved having Dad around in his team meetings. All the dads are getting a peek behind the curtain.

“I’m enjoying every second of it,” Sheldon says.

• Islanders goal-scoring leader Brock Nelson’s most productive seasons have all come in his 30s. He scored 37 in 2021-22, 36 in 2022-23, and thanks to his first-period fadeaway snipe, is on pace for 36 again in 2023-24.

• In addition to his power-play goal, Matthews pinged two posts, ripped 11 shots on net and finished with 16 attempts.

Toronto’s top line was its most dangerous, as Matthews and William Nylander’s chemistry is coming along nicely.

• Spotted tons of DOBSON sweaters at UBS Arena. With three assists Monday, the dynamic defenceman is already up to 27 points — precisely a point per game. He’s only 23.

• For those scoring at home, Tie Domi is wearing No. 11 on the dads’ trip, not No. 28.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.