NEW YORK — On your third official day in the NHL there are worse places to take an optional morning skate than this: Under the bright TV lights and famous wooden roof at Madison Square Garden.
Had he taken a moment to fully catch his breath, he might have had to pinch himself.
“It was a lot of fun out there,” said Brooks. “It was kind of hard, but it was good.”
The 23-year-old centre has taken the scenic route to this first tour of NHL duty. That includes attending a summer rookie camp and the Traverse City tournament with the New York Rangers in 2015 — a year before he was drafted 92nd overall by Toronto in his second year of eligibility — and parts of three seasons in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies.
His status with the Leafs should officially be listed as day-to-day — as in any day now he might find himself heading back to the AHL — but head coach Sheldon Keefe believes there’s value in every moment he gets to go to work alongside John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Co.
Brooks is a player Keefe came to trust during their time together with the Marlies, and the biggest hurdle he faces in taking the next step is gaining the confidence to keep doing what got him here.
“I think the ability of the players that are in the minors really isn’t as big a gap as many would think, especially for the top players down there,” said Keefe. “That’s one thing I’ve learned in being here the short time that I have. But it’s how quickly those guys can get comfortable and feeling like they can just play and be themselves and all those types of things.
“I think every day that you have in the NHL helps you move towards that.”
It’s not yet clear if Brooks will get a chance to make his Leafs debut during this recall.
The timing doesn’t appear to be in his favour with Moore ready to return from a shoulder injury and bottom-six forwards Frederik Gauther, Dmytro Timashov and Pierre Engvall all playing well for the Leafs.
Still, it was a big thrill for him just to take the warmup at Scotiabank Arena before Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres. Call it a step in the right direction.
“It was cool,” said Brooks. “I knew there was a pretty good chance that I wasn’t going to play and I was still nervous. I was still nervous going out there in front of all the Leafs fans.”
As for what he’s learned in stepping behind the curtain at this level?
“Just that there’s still a lot of work to be put in,” said Brooks. “You see the guys that are in the lineup for them every night, guys that played on our team [in the AHL], and just how their games have grown from being up here all year.
“It’s something to try to aim for, and to try to get into a [NHL] game firstly, and then hopefully down the road to try to compete for a spot fully.”
Despite all the depth in the Leafs organization, there is an opportunity for him here in the big picture.
An understated aspect of the decision to have Keefe replace Mike Babcock last month is that established roles within the team shift. You need only look at Jon Cooper in Tampa or Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh to find examples of an AHL coach who brought up trusted lieutenants after being elevated to the NHL job.
Brooks appears to be a strong candidate to do something similar in Toronto. He’s methodically worked his way up the ladder — scoring a remarkable 250 points across his final two seasons for Regina in the Western Hockey League before climbing from the Marlies fourth line to its top line.
“Sticking with it is a good way to describe [him],” said Keefe.
Now he’s up with the big club, putting in work under the most famous roof in the NHL and waiting for his coach to give him the nod.
“We haven’t had that many talks,” Brooks said of Keefe. “He just said ‘it’s good to see ya, go to work.’
“So that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Sheldon Keefe, Maple Leafs reflect on cherished memories of Walter Gretzky – Sportsnet.ca
The coach, the captain, and the superstar all had something to say about hockey’s loss before they fielded questions about their own.
Funny how quick the big things — perspective, legacy, family — can make two mid-season points shrink into the blip they are.
Moments after stepping off the Vancouver ice in defeat, 3-1 by the Canucks, the Toronto Maple Leafs learned that Walter Gretzky had passed away. He was 82 and roundly beloved.
Sheldon Keefe, John Tavares and Auston Matthews each took a moment to pass along their condolences to the Gretzky family.
Like so many Ontarians who grew up hanging around rinks, Keefe had met Wayne’s dad a few times, but one stands out.
Walter visited Pembroke with the NHL Old-Timers when Keefe was coaching the Lumber Kings, and the two had a small time to chat.
Walter always made time to chat.
“The lasting memory I have of that is just him sitting around for what seemed for hours throughout the game, signing autographs and taking pictures with everybody that wanted one, and chatting with anybody who wanted to talk too,” Keefe recalled.
“It was pretty cool to see someone of his stature, what he means to the game, what he’s brought to the game, and to be all the way out in Pembroke, Ont., and taking part in an event like that for people that wouldn’t normally get such an opportunity.”
Tavares, too, met Walter when he was a wee rink rat. His memory can’t quite pin down the year or the place, because hockey’s dad was always around the rinks, immersed in the hockey community. But still, Tavares remembers how Walter made him feel.
“Just his graciousness, big smile, and obviously a passion for the game,” Tavares said. “Just a very gracious man, from what I remember as a kid.”
Slotted in its proper place — below the fold, and well below Walter’s endearing smile — the Maple Leafs’ defeat holds even less meaning.
Build a seven-point lead over your division. Reel off a 10-game point streak. Shut down the most electric player in the game (since, well, Walter’s son) for 180 straight minutes. Do all that, and you can afford a letdown game.
The Maple Leafs arrived late in Vancouver to play their second game in two nights, third in four nights, and fourth in six nights — over three time zones.
Start your third-string goaltender in a matchup like this one, even against the Elias Pettersson–free Canucks, and it’s easy for the NHL’s No. 1–ranked club to write this off as a schedule casualty.
Jake Virtanen — traded a zillion times in the comments section and call-in shows — opened the scoring early by driving to the net around Justin Holl. Pierre Engvall knotted the score at one after taking an Ilya Mikheyev touch pass and driving to the slot.
But Virtanen struck again in Period 2, whipping the winner past Michael Hutchinson off the rush from a cringe-inducing angle.
“As I was going down into the post, I saw his wrists open up and knew he was coming high. From there, I just slipped off the post a little bit,” Hutchinson explained. “It was just a little bit of a mess for me.
“An unfortunate goal at an unfortunate time of the game.”
What didn’t help was Auston Matthews pinging posts or a rested Vancouver side starting Thatcher “Bubble” Demko, who turned away 31 of the 32 shots Toronto funneled his way.
“Demmer’s a great goalie. He’s big, takes up a lot of space, and I think ever since the bubble in the playoffs last year he’s really come into his own,” said Matthews, who knows the California native on a personal level. “He’s an awesome guy and really great person. He played really well tonight.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat.”
With Toronto’s own top two goalies both considered day-to-day as they recover from lower-body injuries, the positive news for Saturday’s rematch is that Frederik Andersen will be available.
You can bet the Maple Leafs will have more jump in their legs. Just as you can bet that game, on Hockey Night in Canada, will begin with more tributes to and memories of Walter Gretzky.
Let them flood like a backyard rink.
“It’s a terrible loss of a great man that gave so many terrific things to our game, to our sport,” Keefe said. “Certainly leaves a legacy behind that we will never forget.”
Dillon Dube scores first NHL hat trick as Flames down Senators – Sportsnet.ca
CALGARY — Dillon Dube didn’t get a shower of hats from the Saddledome seats for his first career NHL hat trick, but his Calgary Flames teammates helped him mark the occasion.
Matthew Tkachuk retrieved the puck out of the Ottawa Senators net for Dube to keep. Goaltender Jacob Markstrom tossed his ball cap from the bench onto the ice.
“Markie throwing his hat, I appreciate it,” Dube said. “I picked it up for him and gave it back. I didn’t want it to get too wet.”
Dube scored a goal in each period in Calgary’s 7-3 win over the Senators.
“It feels good, but anything at this time, with our division right now, I think winning is kind of everything and that makes it feel even better,” the 22-year-old said.
“If you lost the game and you get that, it doesn’t mean anything. To be able to get the win with it feels really good, especially here at home.”
Sean Monahan, Derek Ryan and Brett Ritchie each had a goal and an assist for Calgary (11-11-2) with Josh Leivo chipping in a goal. Tkachuk assisted on all three Dube goals.
David Rittich made 29 saves for the win in his sixth straight start. He’s gone 3-2-1 in that span.
Josh Norris had a goal and an assist for the Senators (8-17-6) in their second straight loss since beating the Flames 5-1 at home Monday.
Artem Anisimov and Ryan Dzingel also scored for Ottawa.
“Looked to me like we had no legs certainly at the start and right on through looked like we were skating uphill,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said.
“We maybe found it for a few minutes here and there, but as a whole we just didn’t have much tonight.
After giving up four goals on 11 shots in the first period, Ottawa starter Matt Murray was replaced by Joey Daccord for the remaining 40 minutes. Daccord turned away 15-of-18 shots.
“There was no point for me to keep Matt going there,” Smith said. “Give him a breather, and we’ll get back at it next game.”
Calgary and Ottawa are 2-2 with five games remaining this season in their North Division series. The winner in each of the first four has scored at least five goals in the game.
Dube completed his hat trick at 1:17 of the third period to give the Flames a 6-1 lead. The Senators then scored twice before Ryan produced his first goal of the season in his first game in a month.
Ryan, who was sidelined 12 games with a broken finger, roofed the puck at 7:05. Dzingal scored on a solo effort at the six-minute mark after the puck bounced over the stick of Flames defenceman Oliver Kylington.
Anisimov scored a power-play goal for the Sens on a sharp-angled shot at 2:13.
Dube went forehand to backhand and lifted the puck over Daccord’s left pad at 7:16 of the second period.
Listless in a their loss Monday to the Senators, two quick and early goals spurred the Flames to a 4-1 lead after 20 minutes Thursday.
Leivo earned his first as a Flame with 39 seconds remaining in the period. Ottawa turned the puck over along the boards for Johnny Gaudreau to feed Leivo in the high slot.
Monahan snared a Tim Stutzle neutral-zone turnover, skated the puck over the blue-line and beat Murray with a high shot far side at 11:56.
Norris shovelled the puck under Rittich in a goal-mouth scrum at 5:25.
The hosts sprang from the gates with Ritchie and Dube both scoring in a 57-second span starting at 2:22 of the first period.
“It was a good start for us,” Flames head coach Geoff Ward said. “I thought we were purposeful. I thought we had energy. I thought were emotionally engaged and attached to the hockey game.”
The Flames are in Edmonton on Saturday to face the Oilers before coming home to host the Senators again on Sunday, which will be Ottawa’s third in a six-game road swing.
Notes: Flames forward Sam Bennett was a healthy scratch Thursday … Calgary goaltender Jacob Markstrom dressed after sitting out five games with a lower-body injury.
Flames fire head coach Geoff Ward, hire Darryl Sutter as replacement – Sportsnet.ca
CALGARY — The Calgary Flames have rehired the coach that brought the organization its greatest playoff success since winning the 1989 Stanley Cup.
The Flames announced the hiring of Darryl Sutter and the firing of Geoff Ward about an hour after Calgary’s 7-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.
Sutter coached the Flames from 2002 to 2006, and served as the team’s general manager from 2003 to 2010.
The 62-year-old from Viking, Alta., guided Calgary to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 when the Flames lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Calgary also lost in the first round of playoffs four other years during his tenure.
The Flames were 11-11-2 this season under Ward, who took over as interim head coach when Bill Peters resigned in November 2019. The interim tag was removed from Ward’s title in September.
The Flames are two points back of the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens in the all-Canadian North Division. The Habs fired Claude Julien last week and replaced him with Dominique Ducharme, the only other coaching change in the NHL so far this season.
Calgary’s coaching carousel continues. Sutter is the fourth head coach general manager Brad Treliving has hired in the last five years.
Sutter coached the Los Angeles Kings from 2011 to 2017 and won Stanley Cups in both 2012 and 2014. He was most recently an adviser to the Anaheim Ducks coaching staff.
His record behind Calgary’s bench was 107-73-15-15.
Sutter has 18 seasons of head-coaching experience in the NHL with Chicago, San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles. His overall coaching record of 634-467-101-83 ranks him 17th all-time in NHL wins.
A .500 team when Peter resigned amid allegations he’d directed racist comments at a player in the minor leagues a decade earlier, the Flames rallied from the controversy to go 25-15-3 for a .616 winning percentage under Ward.
Calgary downed the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 in a in a best-of-five qualifying series to advance in last summer’s Western Conference playoffs in Edmonton.
The Dallas Stars bounced the Flames from the first round of the playoffs in six games. Calgary imploded in Game 6, allowing seven straight goals after leading 3-0.
Sutter played eight seasons for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1979 to 1987.
He scored 161 goals and had 118 assists in 406 regular-season games, and 43 points in 51 playoff games.
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