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Maple Leafs News & Rumors: O'Ree, Simmonds, Hallander & More – The Hockey Writers

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In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll report on Willie O’Ree’s new book about his life and hockey. I’ll also update how two young Swedish prospects are currently doing in the Swedish Hockey League.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Dermott, Lehtonen & “Dr. Strangelove”

I’ll also share the news that Auston Matthews has invested in a Swedish rollerblade company. Finally, I’ll report that Michael Hutchison, a goalie most Maple Leafs fans certainly remember well – if not happily – re-signed with the team today. I’ll share reasons why the organization signed Hutchison later in this post.

Item One: Willie O’Ree Publishes New Book About His Life

An article in the Globe & Mail today contained a short review of Willie O’Ree’s new book Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL’s First Black Player. What was most interesting to me was that Jarome Iginla wrote the foreword for the book, and the book jacket contains tributes to O’Ree from P.K. Subban, Grant Fuhr, and new Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds. (from “‘I’ve been blessed’: Willie O’Ree’s new book reflects on his time as the NHL’s first Black player,” Globe & Mail, 30/10/20)

Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers shakes hands with Willie O’Ree (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Simmonds recalls learning about O’Ree when he was growing up in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. Simmonds’ parents made a special point of pointing out the history of hockey and especially teaching their son how important O’Ree was to the Black community.

As Simmonds put it, “With what he went through, for him to continue on the path to play, made him a trailblazer not only for Black players but for players of other ethnicities as well. He really means everything to me.”

For those who might be interested in reading the book, it is filled with O’Ree’s stories as told to Canadian journalist and filmmaker Michael McKinley. It shares O’Ree’s journey from growing up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, to his NHL play, and then to his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Related: Prospects News & Rumors: AHL, Rossi & OHL

It also places O’Ree’s life and story squarely into the middle of the history of the civil rights movement by covering his experience facing segregation in the United States, including both the cheers and also the tirades from racists who attended NHL games.

In the end, after the difficulty of his life, O’Ree, who now lives in San Diego, California, shared his goal of working with McKinley to write the book. O’Ree noted: “In the book, I wanted people to know more about my hockey career. I wanted them to know what I have been involved with.”

Looking back, he summed up his life, “So many wonderful things happened in my lifetime, and I had never had an opportunity to share them. I’ve been blessed.”

It should be a good read.

Item Two: Two Young Maple Leafs Prospects Playing Well in the SHL

Even though most hockey in North America is on hold, the Maple Leafs have prospects playing in Europe as a way to continue their development. Two of these are young Swedes Filip Hallander and Pontus Holmberg.

Filip Hallander

Maple Leafs fans will recall that Hallander was a player general manager Kyle Dubas was seeking at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. However, Hallander went to the Pittsburgh Penguins as the 58th-overall selection. Dubas was able to retrieve him when Kasperi Kapanen was traded this offseason.

Filip Hallander
Maple Leafs Prospect Filip Hallander (THW Archives)

Hallander is a 20-year-old left-winger who’s now playing with Lulea (SHL). This season he started slowly, but he’s beginning to warm up on the score sheet. He’s shooting a ton and now has scored a goal and four assists in nine games. His reputation is that he’s good at puck possession and is willing to shoot the puck on net. He’s also known to have a high hockey IQ and is also good defensively. He plays with intelligence on all three zones of the ice.

Hallander will be coming to North America to start playing with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies soon – perhaps even this season. He fits a typical profile for a young Swedish forward – he’s smart, skilled, and is sound on both offense and defense.

It might take him a number of seasons, but the Maple Leafs will need to replenish its core of forwards sooner or later. It will be no surprise if Dubas sees Hallander as a valuable future roster piece.

Pontus Holmberg

Like Hallander, Holmberg was selected in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but he was a Maple Leafs selection during the sixth round (156th overall). Holmberg is a 21-year-old left-winger who also plays some center.

He’s currently skating with the Vaxjo Lakers and is suddenly beginning to score, which has been unusual. He now has four goals and two assists in 11 games this season. The entire last season, he only scored seven goals and 17 points in 52 games.

Part of his success can be attributed to the fact that Vaxjo has a much stronger team. Part is that Holmberg is more comfortable in his role with the team. Right now, he’s playing for an NHL entry-level contract. However, he needs a good season for that to happen. Not every late-round draft choice is offered such a contract.

Maple Leafs fans will see if Holmberg’s scoring can be sustained. It obviously helps when a team isn’t constantly on its heels trying to protect against an offensive onslaught from a superior team game after game. When a team can mount some offense, positive things can happen.

Related: The Issues Facing Women’s Hockey in 2020-21

Holmberg’s shown he’s a decent hockey player, but can he put up some points? If he can, he might become a good depth player in the Maple Leafs organization.

Item Three: Auston Matthews Is Getting Entrepreneurial

Yesterday, Elliotte Friedman tweeted that Maple Leafs star player Auston Matthews had become an investor in the Swedish roller-skating company Marsblade. He’s known to have put up between $1 and $1.5 million.

What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?

It seems as if Dubas is preparing the organization for the Seattle Expansion Draft scheduled for June 2021. Today, there was news the Maple Leafs had re-signed Michael Hutchison to a two-year contract. There’s no doubt that Hutchinson probably won’t play for the Maple Leafs anytime soon because he’ll be the organization’s fourth-string goalie. However, it’s interesting to see what the organization is thinking about these days.

Michael Hutchinson Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Hutchinson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It also, to my mind, shows some humanity on the organization’s part. Hutchinson was facing a season without a paycheque. Now he has one, so it’s a win-win for both the organization and for the player.

Related: Maple Leafs Become Chapter in Vesey’s Puzzling Career

Everything has a purpose. If you’re a Maple Leafs fan and you’re scratching your head about why Hutchison was signed, think no further than it’s a temporary set up for the expansion draft.



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Toronto FC: Everything "caught up with us" in playoffs exit, already looking to 2021 – MLSsoccer.com

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Toronto FC, simply put, didn’t have the sharpness required to keep dancing in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Head coach Greg Vanney was quick to acknowledge that after the East’s No. 2 seed got upset by Nashville SC, the East’s No. 7 seed, on Tuesday night in a 1-0 defeat at Rentschler Field. The Round One game-winner didn’t arrive until Daniel Rios scored in the 108th minute for the expansion side, but they generated plenty of chances throughout and had three would-be goals called back via offside decisions.

Everything that this season threw Toronto’s way reached a tipping point, Vanney said.

“I think our guys put an incredible shift in over the course of the body of work of the regular season,” Vanney said. “In the end, pushing, things caught up with us a little bit. Some of what you would call our top players, our guys that are difference-makers, our guys who are important to us in getting results in big games were in an out with injuries, starting to come back in the tail end of the season and I felt like we lacked a little bit of fitness, we lacked a little bit of sharpness, a little bit of continuity at times tonight. 

“That might have been part of why we were a little bit slow in some of our actions and didn’t connect as fast as we normally would or would like to, maybe some of that fluid combination play just wasn’t as sharp, so I think we hit the tail end.”

Highlights: Toronto FC 0, Nashville SC 1 (AET)

Toronto were hit hard by injuries down the stretch, and it showed with the club going 1W-3L to end the year. The 2019 MLS Cup finalists were in the running for the Supporters’ Shield until Decision Day presented by AT&T, but they trended in the wrong direction as single-elimination soccer neared.

Club captain and center mid Michael Bradley took stock of the match in a similar light, noting Toronto couldn’t solve the riddle posed by Nashville. The Reds were credited with 850 passes to Nashville’s 530 and had nearly 62% of the possession, but were outshot 21-10. It was a case study in how those first two stats don’t always tell the whole story.

“By and large we had decent control of the game, but we weren’t able to really put them on their heels consistently enough,” Bradley said. “We weren’t able to really create situations of wave after wave of really being dangerous. Look, they’re defensively a good team, a team that understands who they are and what they’re about and they don’t give away a ton of goals and they don’t give away a ton of chances.”

Now, after spending the last few months playing in East Hartford, Connecticut – travel conditions with Canada around the COVID-19 pandemic meant TFC set up camp stateside – they’re looking ahead. Vanney highlighted as much, with Toronto denied a chance at a fourth MLS Cup appearance in the last five years.

“Obviously the playoffs will sting a great deal, just because we feel like we have a team that has quality and we should do better, so that will hurt,” Vanney said. “But we’ll lick our wounds, we’ll regroup, we’ll continue to try make the team better and then set afoot again next year for another journey. 

“Hopefully it won’t look like this year, and hopefully we’ll be able to get back into our stadium and hopefully teams will be playing in front of fans and some of that excitement will be driven back into the stadiums and the games and all that stuff. Hopefully it will look like a different season, but the guys will get themselves turned around and ready for another year when that time is right.”

Bradley assumed a similar tact, hoping that public heath in 2021 allows for more games at BMO Field. At the same time, he stressed they don’t want to make any excuses for exiting in Round One. 

“I think when you look at the news that’s come out in the last week or two in terms of some of these vaccines, you certainly hope that as we move deeper and deeper into 2021, that little by little the world can start to return to a new normal,” Bradley said. “Certainly, what that will mean for us as a team and as a club, hopefully getting back to playing at BMO Field as soon as possible with fans at a certain point. So we’re certainly very excited about the prospect of that and hopefully that’s coming quickly.”



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Fred Sasakamoose, Indigenous NHL trailblazer, dies at 86 after battle with Covid-19 – CNN

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“This Covid virus just did so much damage into his lungs, he just couldn’t keep responding, his body just couldn’t keep up,” Sasakamoose’s Neil said in the video.
Sasakamoose played 11 games for the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1953-54 season, according to NHL’s website. He is widely believed to be the first Indigenous player in the league’s history, though the NHL tells CNN this is impossible to determine.

NHL honors a trailblazer

An outpouring of respect has come from across the NHL following the news of Sasakamoose’s death.
“That lasting impact of his legacy will forever be celebrated and continue to bring people together for generations to come,” the Black Chicago Hawks organization said on its website. “To the entire Sasakamoose family that includes his wife, Loretta, four children and over 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the Chicago Blackhawks organization extends our deepest condolences.”
Craig Conroy #22 of the Calgary Flames and Alexei Zhamnov #13 of the Chicago Blackhawks pose for the ceremonial face off being dropped by Fred Sasakamoose at the United Center on October 19, 2002.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement that Sasakamoose was the first Cree player to appear in an NHL game at age 19. Sasakamoose then dedicated his life to “serving the First Nations community — using hockey and other sports to provide opportunities for Indigenous youth,” Bettman said.
“The story of Sasakamoose’s groundbreaking, 11-game NHL career with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1953-54 was the culmination of years of dedication to overcoming adversity in pursuit of a dream, and the pivot point at which he turned his focus to helping others pursue their dreams,” Bettman said.
Bryan Trottier, who is also of Indigenous heritage and is a Hockey Hall of Fame center, called Sasakamoose “a pioneer, somebody looked at with First Nation blood who was an achiever, broke barriers,” according to NHL’s website.
“He didn’t realize how inspiring he was, which makes him a humble man, which, to me, is much like Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe and all of those guys who we hold in such high regard,” Trottier said.
Fred Sasakamoose reacts as he is presented with a check for Johnny's Jems and Jets Hockey team during a ceremony celebrating at the United Center on October 19, 2002 in Chicago, Illinois. Fred Sasakamoose reacts as he is presented with a check for Johnny's Jems and Jets Hockey team during a ceremony celebrating at the United Center on October 19, 2002 in Chicago, Illinois.
Reggie Leach, who played for the Boston Bruins, California Golden Seals, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, said he didn’t know about Sasakamoose until he was 16. He felt proud to be of First Nation heritage when he found out about Sasakamoose, the NHL website said.
“He was one of the players that we wanted to be like him and play in the National Hockey League,” Leach said. “He accomplished his goal and that was a big feat at that time in the 50s, being First Nation and playing in the NHL. If you think back, it’s unbelievable the things he had to go through and what he went through going to residential school and accomplishing what he did. It’s just amazing.”
Residential schools “were part of a government-sponsored, religious education system designed to assimilate the country’s Indigenous children. The schools, which began in the 1880s and closed in 1996, were rife with abuse,” according to the NHL.
The Blackhawks honored Sasakamoose in 2002 and the Edmonton Oilers did the same in 2014 as part of their Celebration of First Nations Hockey, the NHL said.
Sasakamoose was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, according to the NHL.

Father seemed in good spirits hours before death

Neil spoke to his father on the telephone mere hours before his passing and said he seemed in good spirits and was unafraid of what may lie ahead.
“I’m not scared, I’m ready to go, if I gotta go, I’m going to go,” Neil recalled his father saying.
“You know what, dad? If you’re tired, you go. You go and don’t worry about us over here. You go. If you’re getting tired and you’re getting beat up and your body is fighting, you go ahead and you go,” Neil told his father.
Neil said his mother Loretta — his father’s partner of 65 years — was currently in lockdown, as were Neil’s sisters. Prior to his death, Sasakamoose lived on the Ahathkakoop Cree Nation reserve in Saskatchewan.
Sasakamoose has an autobiography scheduled to release in the spring of 2021, titled “Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player.”

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Toronto FC’s season ends with stunning loss to Nashville SC in extra time – Sportsnet.ca

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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Toronto FC saw its Major League Soccer season end Tuesday, dropping a 1-0 extra time decision to Nashville SC in playoff action.

Toronto was heavily favoured heading into the game, having finished the regular season with a 13-5-5 record, the second-best in the league.

Nashville’s Daniel Rios scored in the 108th minute to secure the expansion club’s victory at TFC’s temporary home in East Hartford, Conn.

Toronto defenders tied up Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar in deep, but couldn’t stop the German designated player from getting a shot off. Goalkeeper Quentin Westberg made a stop but couldn’t control the rebound, which Rios tapped in to the net.

Westberg had held fast through a Nashville blitz to close out regulation, making a stunning stop on Alex Muyl in the final minute to force extra time. The `keeper had five saves for Toronto.

Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis stopped five on-target shots.

Tuesday marked the first-ever meeting for the two sides, coming after Nashville advanced through the play-in round with a 3-0 win over Inter Miami CF on Friday.

The upstart club posted an 8-7-8 record in regular-season play, finishing in seventh spot in the East.

Toronto nearly found the back of the net early in extra time when Richie Lareya sent a beautiful ball across the six-yard box to Ayo Akinola, who couldn’t quite catch up to the pass to tap it in.

Mukhtar did ripple the netting for Nashville in the 100th minute, sending a shot high over Westberg and in.

But on the sideline, the offside flag was raised. It was the third time a Nashville goal had been called off in Tuesday’s game.

The visiting squad also appeared to take a lead early in the second half after Auro Jr,. was called for taking down Mukhtar in TFC territory.

Daniel Lovitz took the ensuing free kick, landing a ball on the head of Jhonder Cadiz at the back post. Cadiz headed it in and reveled in the play with his teammates before the goal was called off.

Toronto started the game slowly, controlling possession but content to stay outside Nashville’s 18-yard box to begin the game.

Nashville briefly appeared to open the scoring in the 13th minute after Lovitz sent a cross in to Cadiz, who sent a header deep in to the Toronto net. His celebration was quickly cut short by a raised offside flag.

Back at the other end of the field, TFC began to open up the game midway through the half, systematically breaking down the Nashville defence.

A strong back end has been key for Nashville all year and the club conceded just 22 goals in regular-season play.

Nick DeLeon got a prime chance to put Toronto on the board in the 26th minute, putting a hefty shot on net from the top of the six-yard box, but Willis made the save.

TFC controlled possession through the first 45 minutes of the game and had the only shot on target heading into the half.

There were some tense moments for Toronto fans watching from home in the 32nd minute, however, when Jonathan Osorio got tangled up with Muyl in the middle of the field. A bit of a skirmish followed and a replay appeared to show Osorio kicking out at the Nashville midfielder. Instead of showing Osorio a red card, referee Robert Sibiga allowed play to continue.

NOTES: Tuesday’s game was the fourth of the MLS playoffs to go to extra time… Pablo Piatti and Laryea returned to Toronto’s lineup after missing time with injuries… Nashville midfielder Anibal Godoy was unavailable for Tuesday’s game after suffering a hamstring injury on Friday.

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