Leafs hopeful for trio at world junior

- December 2nd, 2014

As much as the hockey world — or the majority of National Hockey League scouts who are part of it — will be focused on the New Year’s Eve game between Canada and the United States at the world junior, Maple Leafs brass will have its attention drawn to another game in the tournament.
On Dec. 29 at the Air Canada Centre, Sweden will face Russia in the preliminary round. If the scenario unfolds as the Leafs hope it will, William Nylander, the Leafs’ first-round pick in June will square off against defenceman Rinat Valiev, the 68th pick overall by the Leafs in the same draft.
Nylander, the eighth pick overall, is second in team scoring with MODO of the Swedish Hockey League, recording 17 points (six goals and 11 assists) in 15 games.
“He’s on the right track,” said Leafs director of amateur scouting Dave Morrison, who will return to Toronto on Wednesday from a scouting trip to Sweden.
“It’s one thing to get a player with skill. It’s another to get one you can win with. He is working at it.”
The Leafs are keeping their fingers crossed that three of their prospects will participate in the world junior. For now, Frederik Gauthier, the 21st pick overall in 2013, is pencilled in as Canada’s fourth-line centre. Gauthier is an effective penalty killer and is smart in the faceoff circle and had a limited role with Canada last winter. There’s no guarantee he will be on the final 22-player roster for Canada when it is announced later this month. Gauthier’s shot at making the team could diminish if the Vancouver Canucks loan centre Bo Horvat to Canada for the tournament.
Nylander has the ability to be a top-six forward with Sweden.
Valiev, in 16 games with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, has four goals and 15 assists. Valiev didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 24 after he recovered from a knee injury.
“I don’t think any one of them will be just given a spot,” Morrison said, referring to Gauthier, Nylander and Valiev. “That’s the way it should be.”
Still, that Nylander and Valiev could spend a couple of weeks in Toronto would be a bonus.
“It would be good for them to get a feel for the city and the fan support we get,” Morrison said.
As for that New Year’s Eve game involving Canada and the U.S. in Montreal? Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel. It shouldn’t be missed.

Job is clear for Gauthier, but he has to earn it

- December 1st, 2014

Hockey Canada envisions a clearly defined role for Maple Leafs prospect Frederik Gauthier at the 2015 world junior championship.
“He is a very specialized player and when I talk about skill players and players who have that underlying skill and talent, I still think we have room for maybe one or two guys who are specialized players on the defensive side,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said of the Rimouski Oceanic centre on Monday.
“That is where Freddy would certainly play in.”
In the 2014 world junior, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Gauthier didn’t find a rhythm until coach Brent Sutter moved him to his natural position in the middle from the wing. In a New Year’s Eve 3-2 victory against the United States, Gauthier won nine of 14 draws including a couple in the final minute.
Gauthier, the 21st pick overall by the Leafs in 2013, finished the tournament with a 62.5% success rate in the circle (25 of 40).
He also would be sent over the boards when Canada runs into penalty trouble this winter.
“Where his real strengths lie is on the penalty kill,” Jankowski said. “He was excellent in the Subway Series (against Russia last month), blocking shots and getting in lanes. It would be really important for him to accomplish that through camp and in the exhibition games.”
As Jankowski hinted, there is no guarantee that Gauthier will have a spot on the 22-player roster, never mind that he is a returning player.
“Really, the guys there is an ironclad guarantee on are Connor McDavid (as long as he is healthy) and (goalie) Zach Fucale,” Jankowski said. “After that, everybody still has to perform in the way we expect them to make the team the second time around.”

Hockey Canada invites 29 players to world junior selection camp

- December 1st, 2014

Hockey Canada has extended an invitation to 29 players for the junior team selection camp.
Heading the list are seven players who were part of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 2014 world junior championship.
That group includes phenom Connor McDavid, who continues to recover from a broken bone in his right hand but is expected to be ready for Canada’s opening game on Dec. 26 against Slovakia at the 2015 world junior in Montreal.
Also given the opportunity to earn a roster spot for Canada again are goalie Zach Fucale, defencemen Chris Bigras and Josh Morrissey and forwards Sam Reinhart, Nic Petan and Frederik Gauthier.
The list of invitees to the camp does not include the eligible players — forwards Bo Horvat, Jonathan Drouin, Curtis Lazar, Anthony Duclair and Nathan MacKinnon and defenceman Aaron Ekblad — who are in the National Hockey League.
MacKinnon and Ekblad will not be available. Hockey Canada will know by Dec. 19 if the others will be loaned by their respective NHL clubs.
The selection camp opens Dec. 11, with practices to take place at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto. Exhibition games against a team of CIS players will be contested at the Mattamy Athletic Centre at Ryerson.
The 22-player roster is expected to be announced on Dec. 15 before the team heads to St. Catharines for a mini camp.
Canada will play three exhibition games — against Russia on Dec. 19 at the Air Canada Centre, against Sweden in Ottawa on Dec. 21 and against Switzerland in Montreal on Dec. 23.
Canada, which will be coached by Benoit Groulx, has not won gold at the world junior since 2009.

The selection camp roster (with home town, team and NHL rights; * — member of 2013-14 Canadian junior team):
Eric Comrie, Edmonton, Tri-City (WHL), Winnipeg
*Zachary Fucale, Rosemere, Que., Halifax (QMJHL), Montreal

*Chris Bigras, Elmvale, Ont., Owen Sound (OHL), Colorado
Madison Bowey, Winnipeg, Man., Kelowna (WHL), Washington
Haydn Fleury, Carlyle, Sask., Red Deer (WHL), Carolina
Dillon Heatherington, Calgary, Alta., Swift Current (WHL), Columbus
Joe Hicketts, Kamloops, B.C., Victoria (WHL), Detroit
Samuel Morin, St-Henri, Que., Rimouski (QMJHL), Philadelphia
*Josh Morrissey, Calgary, Alta., Prince Albert (WHL), Winnipeg
Darnell Nurse, Hamilton, Ont., Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), Edmonton
Travis Sanheim, Elkhorn, Man., Calgary (WHL), Philadelphia
Shea Theodore, Aldergrove, B.C., Seattle (WHL), Anaheim

Nick Baptiste, Ottawa, Ont., Erie (OHL), Buffalo
Rourke Chartier, Saskatoon, Kelowna (WHL), San Jose
Leads WHL in goals with 29 and points with 48 and was white-hot in November, recording 26 points in 14 games.
Lawson Crouse, Mount Brydges, Ont., Kingston (OHL) Eligible 2015 NHL draft
Michael Dal Colle, Vaughan, Ont., Oshawa (OHL), N.Y. Islanders
Jason Dickinson, Georgetown, Ont., Guelph (OHL), Dallas
Max Domi, Toronto, London (OHL), Phoenix
Should be a factor after no invite last year. Leads OHL with 38 assists, so apple falls far from the tree.
Rémi Elie, Green Valley, Ont., Belleville (OHL), Dallas
Robby Fabbri, Mississauga, Ont., Guelph (OHL), St. Louis
*Frederik Gauthier, St-Lin-Laurentides, Que., Rimouski (QMJHL), Toronto
Morgan Klimchuk, Calgary, Regina (WHL), Calgary
*Connor McDavid, Newmarket, Ont., Erie (OHL) Eligible 2015 draft
Nick Paul, Mississauga, Ont., North Bay (OHL), Dallas
*Nic Petan, Delta, B.C., Portland (WHL), Winnipeg
Brayden Point, Calgary, Moose Jaw (WHL), Tampa Bay
*Sam Reinhart, West Vancouver, B.C., Kootenay (WHL), Buffalo
Nick Ritchie, Orangeville, Ont., Peterborough (OHL), Anaheim

Jake Virtanen, Abbotsford, B.C., Calgary (WHL), Vancouver


Leafs honour Quinn, memories surface

- November 29th, 2014

We saw Pat Quinn throw his gum one last time.
The Maple Leafs paid tribute to Quinn in a fine manner on Saturday night before the game against the Washington Capitals, first with a moment of silence in honour of Quinn and fellow ex-Leaf Murray Oliver, who also passed away this past week.
A video tribute to Quinn followed, one that included highlights from his days as a rugged NHL defenceman and then some of his more animated moments behind the bench (gum tossing among them). The video was just a couple of minutes long. It would have been just as entertaining had it went on for the next hour.
One of our favourite Quinn memories didn’t take place in a hockey rink.
In June 2006, not long after he was fired by the Leafs, Quinn addressed the graduating students in the Faculty of Social Sciences at McMaster University.
Wearing a red and maroon gown, Quinn mixed some hockey anecdotes with a clear message to the grads: Attitude, passion and the continuous pursuit of knowledge were integral in achieving success. A dose of humility was important as well.
“You have the ticket, so get yourself into the game and decide how you want to play,” Quinn said that day.
Quinn also dropped what might have been a not-so-subtle shot at the Leafs and the general manager at the time, John Ferguson Jr.
“You can’t soar with eagles,” Quinn said to the audience in the Great Hall at Hamilton Place, “when you’re involved with a bunch of turkeys.”
In an informal setting with reporters later, Quinn, 63 at the time, was relaxed but adamant he was not done coaching.
“I don’t want to sit at home,” Quinn said. “I don’t want to golf every day. I am not ready for that yet.”
Quinn indeed would step behind the bench again, including stints with Hockey Canada and one season with the Edmonton Oilers.
He wasn’t bitter on that warm summer day in his home town, though he certainly could have been given his unceremonious exit from Toronto.
At times, Quinn had run-ins with reporters. Just about every coach does.
But Quinn, at least in our six seasons covering his Leafs in Toronto, wasn’t the kind who held a grudge. The next day was a new one. The accolades sent his way this past week were well-earned and deserved.

Leafs’ inconsistencies worse than a non-salute

- November 21st, 2014

So the Maple Leafs didn’t skate to centre ice and salute the fans following a 5-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
Who cares?
This is what brings the Leafs’ leadership into question?
How about the cold, hard fact that Leafs fans have no idea what kind of team will arrive at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night to play the Detroit Red Wings?
Was it wise for the Leafs to snub their fans after beating Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning? Not really. The optics stink.
Yet any kerfuffle over the act, or lack of act, doesn’t do much other than bump up against the bigger, more important problems with the Leafs.
The Leafs are 10-8-2 after 20 games. On some nights they’ve been good. On others, they have been brutal.
That’s more or less what is expected from teams that are on the bubble to make the playoffs (we were in the group predicted in the pre-season the Leafs would miss the post-season again. Not exactly going out on a limb, to be sure).
With the team at the quarter pole, there has been some discussion about the Leafs’ search for an identity. They have one — their identity is that they are a wildly inconsistent group. It has been solidified with captain Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak as the leadership core, it has been solidified with Randy Carlyle as coach. There has not been much to indicate that will change.
If you’re a Leafs fan and the non-salute bothers you, fine. But you’ve seen much worse from the Leafs on the ice at the ACC, and in other buildings in the National Hockey League. That might stick in your craw just a little more.
It would be no surprise if the Leafs head to centre ice and raise their sticks if they beat the Red Wings on Saturday night. It would keep with their inability to have consistency just about every other time they lace up their skates.