John Tavares can now say he has been in a championship team photo at Toronto City Hall, surrounded by adoring Maple Leaf fans.
All that was missing was the Stanley Cup and June heat.
“Absolutely, you think about that all the time,” the GTA-born captain said after his ‘Team Ontario’ won a 3-on-3 tournament over Euro Leafs at Sunday’s public practice at Nathan Phillips Square. “Obviously, there’s a lot of work ahead. It’s one day at a time and continuing our growth as a group. But certainly that (civic Cup ceremony) is what we’re working towards.”
The symbolism of the Leafs being in the shadow of the Hall’s arches wasn’t lost on anyone. Not since Tavares’ predecessor George Armstrong brought the trophy to the Square when the place was barely two years old has there been a similar party for the Leafs. Going on 56 years since, every other Toronto pro sports team has been honoured here and coach Sheldon Keefe is surrounded by such pictures in Scotiabank Arena.
“We think about it a lot, you have an even greater feel here,” Keefe said. “When you’re out, you see the people and you see how much they care. You’re playing not just for yourselves but for Leaf Nation.”
After a few years on the job, Keefe can usually stickhandle around a bad outing when grilled post-game.
But Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Columbus, another defeat to a beatable team, was either too perplexing or peeving for Keefe.
“We just got outworked, outplayed,” he seethed.
But when pressed further to explain, he said: “I can’t. You guys talked to the players. I’m sure you asked them the same questions. I can’t do the work for them.”
It called to mind another era of coaching when the late Pat Burns worked in Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey. He’d answer for the faults of a talented team, but there was a tipping point. After a grating loss, he’d sometimes refused to speak post-game at all, but opened the dressing room and ordered every player to remain at his stall until all reporters spoke to who they wanted.
The happy faces in the crowd on Sunday morning restored Keefe’s calm demeanour, though a regular indoor practice would’ve been harsh after splitting with the NHL’s last-place Jackets.
“Everything’s nicer after a win, but if you’re going to come in after a loss like that, this is a good way to do it.”
RISK FACTOR REDUCED
As this wasn’t a real practice and the City Hall pleasure skating rink is not exactly NHL calibre, Keefe spared goaltenders Ilya Samsonov, Matt Murray and Joseph Woll from participating, as well as Auston Matthews, who is rehabbing a knee injury.
Practice goalies Brendan Bonello and Andrew D’Agostini filled in. Fashionable forward Mitch Marner wore sporty sunglasses. With so much glare at one end of the rink, others wore eye black.
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Matthews could be ready Wednesday to face the Chicago Blackhawks at home. The Leafs have Monday off.
The Jackets had as many hits on Saturday as they did shots: 40, while the giveaways were a glaring 19-8, not a stat the Leafs wanted to lead in … Sunday’s practice was preceded by a skills session featuring stars from the Professional Women’s Players’ Association … The home-and-home series with Columbus was a reunion for Keefe with AHL Hershey Bears teammate Brad Larsen, the Jackets’ coach. The two also played there with future Ottawa Senators coach D.J. Smith, under Paul Fixter, an assistant with Colorado’s two Stanley Cup winners in 1996 and 2001 … The Marlies and Manitoba Moose will complete their suspended game at 7 p.m. Monday night at Coca -Cola Coliseum. Tied 1-1 after a period on Jan. 13, it was shelved after a lengthy delay when a spectator suffered a medical emergency and the teams decided not to continue.
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