1193 for publication November 25, 2016
Two days ago I received a call from a known “disturber.”
“All you media guys must be losin’ weight, you know, lookin’ kind’a seasick, off yer feed.”
A few eons ago, around a Lakehead pool-hall hangout, this caller was the one we would have called “a flag.” Meaning, whichever way the wind was blowing, he’d be in it. Don’t worry folks, he’s OK, I’ve told him the same thing to his face.
One of the governing factors is persistent, the man is a long-serving Boston Bruin fan, with loads of old material to give any stray Leaf fans terminal acid reflux. His main goal in life seems to be getting one over on any handy Maple Leaf devotee, or any random media member.
“And why would we, the media, be displaying flu-like colours?” I asked.
“Well you, the media, are tellin’ everybody how terrific Austin Matthews is gonna be, and he hasn’t done anything on the score sheet since that first couple’a weeks comin’ out’a trainin’ camp.”
“Well,” I replied, “an outstanding start counts for something, especially if you’ve just turned 19. That, and the evidence that the big ol’ meanies in the NHL haven’t scared him out of the rink. See, I look for the finer points of interest and other things in a young center that most Bruin boosters would trip over. Like, how many face-offs does he win? I look it up I see where he’s good, very good, a few tenths of a point under 50 percent, almost half…” before I’m abruptly cut-off.
“So what? Where did his scoring touch go, and besides…”
I returned the favour. “Tut-tut-tut. I wasn’t finished explaining some of the finer points in grading an up-and-coming center in the National Hockey League. Well, lookee here. He’s second in Leaf scoring, his shots-on-net are 75, leading all other Leafs by 20, and any way you look at it, this young man has the tools to be the new Sundin. Those chances are going to turn into points.”
Meanwhile “the flag,” is itching to get a zinger in, barking “he’s lookin’ more like a guy whose career is gonna be yo-yo affair. Gettin’ enough points to get Babcock off his back, then a dry run… you watch.”
“Sure, we can watch,” I agree, “… but the best indications of his value may be the fact he has experienced a dry stretch but continues going into the tough areas, getting in close with that big body, and shooting. Wait until this teenager gets more experience, more education, and goes through his first NHL one-on-one challenge. That’s the moment he arrives. In fact I hope it’s Brad Marchand that decides to ask him if he wants to go”
The pause told me he was assessing the pitfalls of a gracious offer and, quick on the uptake, he asked, “why.”
I wait for a couple of seconds, then say, “cuz I don’t think he’ll come out on top.” It set off a foul tirade that offered me the chance to quietly disconnect. It’s OK, I always gave him 48 hours to recover.
This is gospel. For the first time in ages, the Leafs have a neophyte with all the tools, and showing the right responses and reactions to life in the Big Smoke. The even better news for all hockey fans is there are at least a dozen new faces scattered throughout the NHL in the same category. In fact, they have changed my assessment of where the League is headed.
By the way, on Wednesday, Matthews regained his scoring touch with a pair against the Devils.
However, in the NHL where pitfalls abound, rookies are faced with one trend that’s caught my eye. It started last season and now seems to be entrenched 20-games into the schedule. I call it “flick-slashing.”
With the new lightweight sticks and even lighter protective gloves, a flick of the wrist can become a slash with sting in it when delivered to the opponents hand-area. Doesn’t even appear to be dangerous. If you haven’t seen it, check out video of the Flames Johnny Gaudreau’s having his finger broken.
There’s always something to watch on post-game Google video.
It’s getting late… contact me directly at email@example.com if you are looking to order my new book, “the Five Hole Diaries…”