Maple Leafs’ Tavares returns to Long Island with chance to get 1,000th point

Toronto Maple Leafs team captain John Tavares talks about being within two points of hitting 1000 career points and what it means to him to reach such an impressive milestone in his career.

LONG ISLAND, N.Y. — As the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fathers boarded a bus on Sunday to head to the airport and jet off to New York City for the annual dads trip, Paul Marner had to hop off the bus and scramble across the parking lot.

“Mitchy’s dad forgot his phone in his car,” Leafs captain John Tavares says, smiling in the dressing room as he tells the story. “Pretty typical for Mitchy to forget his phone somewhere. That kick-started things.”

The apples, they don’t fall far from the tree.

And as the Leafs and their fathers spend more time together, the players have begun needling each other when they pick up on habits or idiosyncrasies passed down through the genes.

To that point, Tavares sees plenty of himself reflected in his own dad, Joe, a quiet and reserved man.

“Just stoic. Just try to get a feel for things before you kinda open up a little bit,” Tavares says. “You know, I’m sure you guys always see me walking around with my backpack. He’s got his backpack, too. So, you see where that comes from.”

Another thing: “Just a tremendous heart. I think he’s got a big heart, and I try to emulate that every day.”

These dads trips mean a little extra for the Tavareses — and this one, in particular, with John a mere two points shy of becoming just the 98th player in NHL history to score 1,000 points.

For it was John’s mom, Barbara, who almost always drove him to his hockey games and watched him play as a boy. Joe was busy punching the clock and callusing his hands as steel decker and welder to provide for the family.

Hard labour.

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“You know, he didn’t see me play a lot growing up. He was out working — and working hard — to give me the opportunity to play the game, to get the equipment I needed, the registration fees and things you needed to have to be able to play. So thankful for him for so much he’s brought to my life,” Tavares says. “So, it was always really special when I was a kid when he was able to come just because it wasn’t that frequent.

“Always meant a lot. So, it still has that same feeling for me today on a trip like this.”

John and Joe aren’t taking these moments for granted.

And what a moment it would be Monday for the Leafs captain to have a multi-point night on Long Island (7 p.m. ET on Sportsnet and Sportsnet+), where Tavares scored the first 621 of his 998 points.

“I haven’t really tried to think about it a whole lot that way,” says Tavares, the poster boy for NHL consistency. “If it does happen that way, obviously, the two franchises I played for, so it’d be pretty cool. I guess, when you think about it, really unique.”

The old feelings and memories, they come flooding back for the both player and the (bitter) fan base whenever Tavares returns to the Island.

On Monday, Tavares thought back to his very first NHL point, which came in his first NHL game (an assist during a 5-on-3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins), and how he followed that up in the same game with his first goal, a backhander.

New York memories, he says, will stick with him forever.

“A big part of who I am as a player and as a person. And loved my time here and really tried to embrace it when I was here, and gave it everything I had every single day. So when you invest a lot of time, effort, energy, emotion, there’s a lot to that,” Tavares says. “No doubt, it’s always nice coming back.”

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe accurately points out that his captain is “as steady as they come,” a guy who is unwavering in his attitude and approach regardless of location, opponent, or circumstances.

How entrenched Tavares has become within the Maple Leafs’ walls and the city of Toronto assures Keefe that the connection was just as strong here, on Long Island. Which helps explains the pain felt by the community when Tavares chose the Leafs over the Islanders as a free agent in 2018.

“The fans make it known that they’re disappointed that he’s no longer with them,” Keefe says.

“I look at that as nothing more than a credit to the player and what he meant to the organization. But I think John’s moved on, the organization has moved on.”

Still, some of those old feels will certainly re-surface Monday — with quiet Joe watching in the stands — if hardworking John can hang a couple points on his former team and author a little history.

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