TORONTO — Call Michael Bunting “a greasy rat” and he’ll grin. It’s because he must have had an excellent night.
Such was the case for Bunting when he scored a hat trick in the Maple Leafs’ 4-0 preseason win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. It was teammate Kurtis Gabriel who interrupted Bunting’s intermission interview with the compliment, and while Bunting admits Gabriel “scared me a bit” jumping in with the comment, it was the type of praise Bunting appreciates.
“I think that’s the way I get into a game is getting the other team after me or to get in their head,” Bunting said after practice on Thursday. “I feel like that’s when I’m playing my best. When they’re chasing after me and not worried about the game that helps us out so I don’t mind playing that role.”
Neither does coach Sheldon Keefe.
“One thing I know about Michael Bunting is he usually leaves the game as one of the most hated players on the ice,” Keefe said. “I’ve come to expect that from him in terms of reactions that he gets from other teams. But I think that’s a positive thing; he’s not out there to make friends, he’s out there to score goals and help this team win and he make some apologies about how he goes about it. I like that about him.”
Keefe has more experience watching Bunting than most, and is familiar with the unconventional path he took to the NHL.
Growing up in Scarborough, Ontario, Bunting didn’t get recruited to any of the Greater Toronto Area’s elite squads and cut his teeth playing high school hockey. He finally earned one season with the AAA Don Mills Flyers’ U-18 team in 2012, and then was drafted 160th overall by the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds in the 2013 Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection.
It was in the Soo that Bunting met then-general manager Kyle Dubas (now GM of the Leafs) and Keefe, who was the Greyhounds’ head coach. Bunting parlayed a strong rookie season in the OHL (42 points in 48 games) into being selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the fourth-round, 117th overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
And then Bunting’s real work began.
The now 26-year-old would bounce around the American Hockey League for the next four years, not making his NHL debut until December 2018. He appeared in five games for the Coyotes and was sent back to the AHL, where he remained under another recall in March 2021.
Back in the NHL, Bunting never left. He tallied 10 goals in 21 games for Arizona to finish the season and became a coveted unrestricted free agent in July. Weighing multiple offers from interested parties, Bunting ultimately decided to sign a two-year, $1.9 million deal with the club he cheered for as a kid – and gave Toronto a hometown discount to boot.
“I was a late bloomer,” Bunting said. “The road I took to get here isn’t the normal one that everybody takes so I take pride in that and I [embrace] it every day that you can’t take this thing for granted, it can go just as fast as it can come. You appreciate it a little bit more [because] it did take a little bit for me to get here, it has been a grind.”
Wayne Simmonds, who also grew up in Scarborough a few years ahead of Bunting, can appreciate his path to success more than most.
“Scarborough sticks together,” Simmonds said. “We had a lot of time to chat [since meeting in training camp] and [compare] our life’s paths. Like how we grew up playing and both of us played double A. He didn’t get to junior until he was 18 and I didn’t play junior until I was 18 as well. So what we went through as young kids playing hockey was the same and we have a pretty strong bond because of that.”
Just like Simmonds before him, Bunting is ready to make his mark on the NHL. Keefe slotted him onto a line with John Tavares and William Nylander to start training camp last week, and Bunting has tallied four goals in two preseason games thus far. And he hasn’t used exhibition as an excuse to go easy on the opposition, hence Gabriel’s approval of his pestering.
“He certainly is a guy that makes no friends on the ice, and that’s part of what makes him who he is,” Keefe said. “Just in terms of the hunger and the competitiveness he has around the net, [it’s] because he’s always looking to get an edge on you. I’m really happy that he’s gotten the results that he’s gotten here in the first two games. It allows his confidence to grow, allows him to settle in here with us.”
When Zach Hyman left the Leafs for Edmonton in free agency last July, there was plenty of concern about who would take his place as a top-six left winger in Toronto. Bunting isn’t the same player as Hyman, but his skill set is something the Leafs are lacking. And Bunting has used all resources available to him in trying to perfect it.
Back in Arizona, Bunting picked the brain of former head coach Rick Tocchet on how to toe the line between skill player and general annoyance. Tocchet played more than 1,100 NHL games and scored 952 points doing just that. In stature, Tocchet was larger in stature (6-foot, 214 pounds) than Bunting (5-foot-11, 196 pounds), but he was happy to share tricks of the trade with a fellow Scarborough offspring.
“I think he was a little tougher than me,” Bunting said of Tocchet. “But he’s not afraid to mix it up, and we would talk about that and he would give me advice about how [to] play on the edge and be able to put it in the net as well because he was able to put up numbers.”
So far, Bunting has been able to do exactly that in the NHL. Granted it’s still early in the Leafs’ exhibition schedule, and critics are quick to point out Bunting’s sample size last season was too small to really judge him on. But Bunting is used to being doubted – it’s helped create the player he is. And that’s everything the Leafs are looking for.
“I know the history of Bunts…he’s just got a chip on his shoulder, in terms of how he’s how he’s come up through the hockey ranks,” Keefe said. “He plays with a lot to prove every night and he’s out there to try to make the best of every opportunity he can and I like those qualities about him. That’s what I think makes you believe a player like him always has a chance, and here he is in the NHL. Those are the kind of guys you don’t want to bet against.”
What 2022 Holds for the Canadian Sports Betting Sector
After years of confusing legislation, Canada finally achieved some clarity with regard to its sports betting laws earlier this year. The passing of Bill C-218 saw single event betting become legalized for the first time, paving the way for sportsbooks and online operators to begin serving Canadian customers all across the country.
Since then, the industry has gone from strength to strength. Unsurprisingly, Ontario has led the way in terms of online competition, with a wide array of options for punters to choose from. Home to some 15 million people, Ontario is the fifth biggest jurisdiction in the USA and Canada and is expected to rival the likes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan in the coming years.
So with sports betting finally up and running in a more comprehensive format in Canada, what does the future hold? Here’s a quick look ahead to some of the biggest developments that are expected to occur in the next 12 months.
The ability to place bets on-the-go is something that customers have come to expect from their sportsbooks nowadays. Although the idea of sports betting on single events is still a relative novelty for many Canadians, it won’t be long before they begin to demand a truly mobile experience from their gambling provider, allowing them the freedom to lay wagers wherever, whenever and on whatever they please.
Thankfully, there is already a healthy infrastructure in place to deal with that demand. The list of sports betting apps in Canada is growing longer by the day, with sportsbook operators giving their customers round-the-clock access to better odds, up-to-the-minute stats and exclusive promotions and bonuses. There’s an app for everything these days – so it should come as no surprise that an increasing percentage of Canadians will choose to bet on their smartphone via the app in the coming months and years.
Even before the passing of Bill C-218 officially endorsed sports betting from a legal perspective, overseas operators had been serving a Canadian market for years. Although the practice was not legal prior to this summer, it wasn’t strictly illegal, either. This created a grey area which many foreign sportsbooks exploited, with some reports suggesting that billions of dollars were being funneled into them every year.
Now that the practice has become fair game for domestic operators, it should open the floodgates with regard to the number of available options. Early adopters and established names in the industry were quick to jump aboard the bandwagon, but more and more rivals will spring up as time goes on. This can only be good news for punters, since they will gain access to more lucrative incentives and better markets with the increased competition.
As well as increased competition among operators, it’s also likely that this excess supply will be met by ballooning demand. Indeed, a particularly bullish report from Deloitte Canada speculated that the industry could be worth a massive $28 billion inside five years. Given that it isn’t projected to exceed $1 billion in its first 12 months of operation, that’s quite a seismic shift.
What that means for players is that sports betting is likely to become endorsed and advertised with greater frequency. Collaborations between teams and individual athletes will enhance the profile of the sector, while lucrative sponsorship deals will benefit both parties. And of course, the government itself is poised to cash in on a significant revenue stream, potentially swelling its coffers for reinvestment in other areas of policy.
Another exciting possibility is the increased incorporation of technological advances into the sports betting experience. Fans can already benefit from livestreams of their favorite matches, as well as real-time analysis and in-play betting opportunities. However, the sky is the limit when it comes to tech and sports betting, since there are a variety of tantalizing innovations currently on the horizon.
Chief among these is the possibility of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) becoming a more central pillar of sportsbooks. Imagine if it were possible to view a sporting event in 3D, as if you were in the stadium yourself, all from the comfort of your own home? That kind of tech breakthrough might seem lightyears away, yet similar software is already commonplace in the world of gaming. If it could be adapted to live sporting events, it would dramatically alter the way in which sport is consumed (and bet upon) all across Canada. Watch this space for news on potential developments of VR and AR in 2022.
Although sports betting is still in its infancy in Canada, it has already made quite a splash among punters, operators and regulators alike. As the practice becomes more and more mainstream, it’s to be expected that it will both deliver higher revenues and benefit from greater investment – potentially creating some exciting times ahead.
Longtime NFL official Carl Madsen dies on way home from Chiefs-Titans – Yahoo Canada Sports
Carl Madsen, who had worked for the NFL as an official for more than 20 years, died on Sunday. He was 71.
According to NFL.com, Madsen died on his way home from Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans, where he was working as a replay official.
While details are hazy on Madsen’s death, the Nashville Police Department told TMZ that early signs indicate Madsen suffered “a medical emergency” while driving on I-65 North. A spokesperson reportedly said officers answered a call about a motorist blocking a traffic lane and found Madsen unconscious at the scene.
Chest compressions were immediately administered once Madsen was removed from the vehicle, per the report, but he ultimately died after being transported to a nearby hospital. His exact cause of death remains unknown.
An Air Force veteran, Madsen spent 12 years as an on-field official from 1997 to 2008 before transitioning to his replay official role. He was reportedly tied with Paul Weidner as the league’s most experienced replay official.
“Carl Madsen was an NFL officiating fixture for more than two decades, first as a highly respected on-field official before transitioning to a replay role beginning in 2009,” NFL senior VP of officiating training and development Walt Anderson said in a statement. “A terrific friend and colleague, Carl’s love of football and dedication to officiating was ever-present, as he generously shared his time to mentor young officials at clinics across the country. A veteran of the Air Force, Carl had a tremendous spirit and will be greatly missed.”
NFL Referees Association president Scott Green also released a statement to Pro Football Talk:
“Carl will be missed by those who worked with him on the field and in replay,” Green said. “He had a nickname among his fellow officials of “Big Country” which was not only related to his size but to his big personality as a warm and generous man.”
Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Spezza, Engvall, Calling Leaders – The Hockey Writers
Where did Saturday’s game come from? In the three seasons that I’ve covered the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was one of the strangest games I watched. The team was overwhelmed. There was every chance to come in and play well against what should have been an under-manned Pittsburgh Penguins’ squad; but, a final score of 7-1 for the Penguins shows it didn’t happen.
The question that remains for the Maple Leafs as a team is whether this current funk is a short one or whether it’s symptomatic of deeper issues. There’s a saying attributed to William Arthur Ward that “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
The question now is what the Maple Leafs will do to adjust the sails. Although there’s great value in optimism, for as optimistic a face as head coach Sheldon Keefe shows the public, having watched him in the Amazon Prime Documentary “All or Nothing,” you have to know Keefe isn’t singing “Kum Ba Yah” behind the scenes when he’s not answering the media’s questions.
Keefe’s a realist and is surrounded by realists. What will happen now? In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at Jack Campbell’s odd night. Second, I’ll look at Jason Spezza’s continuing contributions to the team. Finally, I’ll consider Maple Leafs’ current team leadership.
Item One: Time for a Jack Campbell Mulligan
The stats line shows that Maple Leafs’ starting goalie Jack Campbell let in five goals on 21 shots during Saturday’s 7-1 loss to the Penguins. That isn’t the Campbell we know from either last season or thus far this season. The second period did him in when he let in four goals in 20 minutes.
By the third, coach Keefe had enough and put in Michael Hutchinson to close out the obvious defeat. Given that the 29-year-old Campbell entered the game with a 2-0-1 season’s record, a goals-against-average of 1.18, and a save percentage of .953 in four games, he deserves a mulligan.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to lay a guilt trip on a goalie who had, until Saturday’s game, only given up two or fewer goals in each of his first four starts. Here’s hoping, although Campbell might have fallen in one game, that he can get up quickly.
Item Two: Jason Spezza Continues to Produce
No surprise, the one player whose game seemed unaffected by the circumstances was Jason Spezza. He scored a goal to tie the game early and gave Maple Leafs’ fans early hope that all was not lost. It was the last goal the team would score.
Spezza continues to show up. In six games to start the 2021-22 campaign, he’s scored three goals and added two assists (for five points). Last season, he scored 10 goals and 20 assists (for 30 points) in 54 games. He shows no signs of a let-up.
Item Three: How Did Pierre Engvall Emerge with a Plus-One Rating?
One amazing scoresheet surprise has to be that Pierre Engvall emerged with a plus-one rating on the night. How does a player play 13:21 minutes during a 7-1 loss and come out on the positive side of the ledger? I have no comment on Engvall’s game because I didn’t notice the statistic until I looked at the box score after the game.
Engvall had an assist on Spezza’s goal but was miraculously not on for any Penguins’ goals. That just seems amazing and was perhaps the only positive statistic the Maple Leafs can show for the game.
Item Four: Considering Team Leadership
Each offseason the team’s management gets together to talk about what moves it can make during the offseason to improve the team. Last season, the management decided to bring in outside players to provide leadership. Chief among those players was Joe Thornton. I believe he provided that aspect of leadership and the team was better for his presence. Even if his play was less than expected, he helped the team.
During this offseason, I believe management thought it was time for the team’s internal leadership to take the next leadership step. Specifically, it was time for Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner to take the reins. The team’s management reasoned that group had seasoned enough to do that job. In addition, Wayne Simmonds and Spezza remained to help.
As a result, this season, the team is different because management didn’t bring in outside players for leadership. That leadership now must come from within – starting with Matthews, Marner, and Tavares. The results on the ice suggest that it hasn’t happened yet.
As my sometimes collaborator and long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith emailed me after the game, if these players are to lead they’ll have to do it by example. So far, it isn’t happening – not yet anyway,
If this team is to come out of its current crisis, that leadership must emerge soon.
What’s Next for This Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs must try to shake off this blowout before they meet ex-teammate Frederik Andersen and the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. You can only imagine that Andersen is waiting to exact some payback against his old team.
Winning in Carolina won’t be easy for the Maple Leafs. The Hurricanes are 4 – 0. Andersen’s only given up seven goals in four games, and he’ll be ready. It might be another disaster, or it could be a chance for redemption. That it’s the Maple Leafs’ third game in four nights, this one might take some lucky bounces or the immediate emergence of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Is it too naive for Maple Leafs’ fans to be optimistic?
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf
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