Masters: Ryan O’Reilly continues smooth adjustment at first Toronto Maple Leafs practice
TSN SportsCentre Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Thursday ahead of Friday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.
The first challenge for Ryan O’Reilly at his first practice with the Leafs was finding it. The players are split across three pads for skills sessions before the main group meets.
“I was a little confused,” the veteran centre admits with a smile. “I walked out to that ice [Leafs pad] and they sent me to the other [Marlies] one and I got out there and they sent me to the other one.”
The practice with the full group starts on the Marlies pad before moving to the Leafs pad for special teams work and the final drills.
“It’s nice because if you’re on one sheet it will get chewed up quickly and kind of slows it down,” said O’Reilly. “It’s nice especially for me, not the greatest skater, so I can feel a little faster with less snow out there.”
O’Reilly is still getting up to speed with how the Leafs do things.
“I was a little more nervous for the practice than I was the first game,” he said. “You don’t know any of the drills and the pace and how it goes.”
One pleasant surprise? Loud music blares during most drills.
“A little different,” O’Reilly said. “It gives a little energy. Obviously, it puts a little more pep in the step when you get the tunes going.”
It’s been a whirlwind week for the 32-year-old, who was acquired from the Blues along with fellow centre Noel Acciari late last Friday night. The pair travelled to Toronto from St. Louis on Saturday morning and made their debuts that night in a win against the Montreal Canadiens. There was another game on Sunday in Chicago, which was followed by a travel day on Monday before another game on Tuesday in Buffalo.
Wednesday offered an opportunity for O’Reilly to catch his breath in the form of a full day off.
“I had a nice sauna at the hotel,” he said. “That was pretty much it. It was nice to open the window and see the snow coming down. It was like, ‘Oh, welcome back to Canada.’ It was nice to have a day off after all that hockey and all that travel.”
Finally, on Thursday, O’Reilly and Acciari got a chance to explore their new practice facility and drill down on the team’s system and structure.
“It was nice practising the power play because we haven’t really had many opportunities,” said O’Reilly, who is playing the bumper spot with the second unit. “It was nice to communicate what we want to do off faceoffs. It’s just being a little more comfortable everywhere and run through it a few times to see what it looks like and how it should be done. It was great to have that practice and iron some things out.”
“It is the next piece of the puzzle,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “They have played a home game. They have played a couple of games on the road now and spent time with their teammates. Getting that feel for the practice, being in this facility, and seeing more new faces sort of completes that adjustment period for them. Everything will start to feel a little more like normal, or at least a new normal, for them. I think both guys have been adjusting very well.”
Before cracking jokes during a lengthy media session, O’Reilly was the last skater on the ice at Thursday’s practice and helped collect the pucks.
“He is a very fun and easygoing guy,” observed Keefe. “He doesn’t take himself or anything else too seriously and yet he takes his game, his routine, and his craft extremely seriously. He works extremely hard at it. That is a pretty rare balance. You see a lot of guys who are very serious and at times maybe need to loosen up and have a little fun. I think he has that good balance. There is a great level of confidence that comes with the type of career and accomplishments that he has had being such a leader in St. Louis and winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe.”
O’Reilly believes playing games before getting in a practice actually helped, because he could simply trust his instincts. O’Reilly made it clear to Leafs management that he wanted to play right away despite the travel.
“He just has a great confidence about him that allows him to just be confident in who he is and be himself,” said Keefe. “Right from the moment he stepped into our facilities, to me, he has just been himself and looked very comfortable. I think that has allowed the adjustment to happen very quickly for him. I don’t think it is a stretch to say he is an extremely important part of our team, but he is also bringing a lot of things to our team that are really going to help us in a lot of areas — not just in what his on-ice contributions are.”
ContentId(1.1922926): Leafs Ice Chips: O’Reilly has pep in his step at first practice
Toronto has won two of three games since the trade with both of the new recruits getting on the scoresheet.
“The last couple games with them, I think we’ve gotten a big boost,” said centre Auston Matthews. “Morale around the room, a lot of really good energy is flowing and that’s what you look for when you pick up keys guys like that. We’ve been really welcoming. They’ve come in here and made themselves at home.”
Acciari scored in Chicago and has elevated the fourth line. O’Reilly got on the board in Buffalo with a hat trick. Mitch Marner had the primary assist on all three goals.
“You could have put a PeeWee kid on his line and he probably would’ve had a hat trick,” O’Reilly said with a laugh. “He’s just incredible. His processing ability with the vision is just next level. He already knows what he’s doing before he even gets the puck. For myself, it’s very easy to play with. You know he’s going to find you.”
O’Reilly remained on a line with Marner and John Tavares at practice.
“Playing against him it was always a bit of a chess match because he understands and reads the game so well,” said Tavares of O’Reilly. “The communication he has throughout the shifts or on the bench and obviously just reading off each other, there was definitely a step there [on Tuesday] from the three of us. His game is such a complement to our group and the type of players we have.”
O’Reilly, Marner and Tavares combined for 13 points in Tuesday’s win and helped the Leafs unlock a new level. Keefe called the opening period in Buffalo the most dominant sequence for his team all season.
“We were able to transition really well,” Matthews said. “The first period, especially, we probably transitioned the puck as well as we have all season and counter attacking really strongly and just playing quick. When we’re doing that we put a lot of pressure on the other team and we were able to capitalize on some chances.”
ContentId(1.1922849): O’Reilly on playing with Marner: ‘PeeWee kid probably would’ve had a hat trick’
Thursday was also the first practice for Tavares since moving to left wing.
“I’m not in the middle of the ice nearly as much,” Tavares said following Tuesday’s four-point performance. “So just being on the walls, trying to be good there with those plays and then working to get into good spots, open ice, getting my feet moving and continue to build my game from there. Each and every game, feeling better and better, a little less thinking and it becomes more habit and instinctive … Happy with some of the progress I’ve had.”
Keefe expects Tavares will eventually move back to the middle, but is encouraged by how the 32-year-old has embraced the experiment.
“It’s impressive,” agreed defenceman Morgan Rielly, “but that’s who he is. You know, if your role changes you have to be willing to accept that and work. I mean, it’s not a big change or, well, it is, but ultimately on the depth chart he’s just moving over. But that’s just good leadership. We expect other guys to do that, take on different roles, so when your captain is able to do it that’s just leading by example.”
ContentId(1.1922391): Tavares leads by example with willingness to move to wing
O’Reilly grew up in Clinton, Ont., but he wasn’t a die-hard Leafs fan. Instead, he kept tabs on certain players, including gritty Leafs winger Darcy Tucker.
“I always loved watching him play,” O’Reilly said. “I can remember the crazy Tucks eyes that he’d have when you turned on the TV to watch the Leafs.”
O’Reilly actually lived with Tucker during his first season in the NHL (2009-10), which would end up being Tucker’s last. They remain friends.
What was Tucker’s message after the trade?
“He says I’ll absolutely love it here,” O’Reilly revealed. “We know he loves it here and all the things he’s done for the city. We have great conversations.”
ContentId(1.1922891): O’Reilly loved watching Tucker’s ‘crazy eyes,’ reveals message from ex-Leaf
In a jubilant dressing room on Tuesday, O’Reilly passed the team’s player-of-the-game belt to Acciari.
“JT, Marns, way to make me look good tonight,” he declared. “Appreciate it. This goes to the guy who finished every check. Always does it. You guys will get used to it.”
Acciari leads the Leafs with 13 hits in the last three games. He now has 181 on the season, which ranks seventh among all NHL forwards. Zach Aston-Reese is the closest Leaf with 121 hits.
“I might not be the most skilled or [be able to] put the puck in the net every night, but I want to bring an aspect every night,” the 31-year-old explained. “For me to make it in the league I had to focus on what helped me get there and it was my hard play and I couldn’t get away from that. I tried to make it the best I can and work at it every year and try to keep it consistent so you know what you’re going to get out of me every night.”
Acciari stands just 5-foot-10, but he packs a punch at 209 pounds.
“He’s heavy,” observed Matthews. “He hits hard and he seems to be in the right spots all over the ice. He plays extremely responsible on both ends and he’s extremely competitive. It was pretty evident in all three games he’s played in, but especially last game you could see when stuff started to slip for us that line went out there and got it back with their physicality and competitiveness.”
Acciari’s nickname is Cookie.
“I love cookies,” he explained. “I got that nickname in Florida from [Keith] Yandle. There were no cookies at a pre-game meal and I didn’t throw a fit, but was a little upset. Keith helped me get that in the pre-game meals and then he goes, ‘I’ve never seen someone act like that so I’m going to call you, ‘Cookie.'”
Acciari’s sweet tooth has led to a sweet tradition with his two-year-old son Greyson.
“Before the pre-game naps I’ll have Oreos with my little guy,” Acciari said. “He calls it ‘cookie time’ and that’s pretty special to me. Before naps [on the road] and when I’m having my cookie, I’ll try and get a FaceTime with him and tell him, ‘It’s cookie time.'”
So, what sort of cookie supply do the Leafs boast?
“They had it at the rink for pre-game meal there,” the Rhode Island native said approvingly. “They were very good. I was very surprised. I was very happy with them.”
ContentId(1.1922882): New Leaf Acciari opens up about love of cookies, physical play
On Wednesday, the Leafs confirmed what had long been suspected: Jake Muzzin will miss the rest of the season with a cervical spine injury. However, the defenceman remains a constant presence around the team.
“He has been in this facility every day that we have been here,” Keefe noted. “He is at every game. He has made most of the road trips with us. It just speaks to his character. He’s continuing to be a part of it and doing all he can to help the team while not playing and also still pushing himself. You see him in the gym consistently doing everything he can in his control. Unfortunately, his body is just not going to allow him to play this season.”
Muzzin opted to celebrate his 34th birthday in Buffalo on Tuesday night.
“Suck it, Court,” a smiling Marner said referring to Muzzin’s wife Courtney. “We get him … He’s still one of the head honchos here, really, in the dressing room. We got a lot of love for that man and I do, especially.”
“Our players love having him around and enjoy his personality, his friendship, his leadership, and his perspective on things,” said Keefe. “He knows how we play. He knows what the expectations are. He has great bonds with our players. He is an integral piece of our leadership group and that won’t change. We will get everything we can out of him that way. He is going to give us everything he has even though he is not going to be in uniform. He wants to win as badly as anyone. That is one of the intangibles he has brought here to Toronto.”
The Leafs will update Muzzin’s status again at training camp in September.
ContentId(1.1922904): ‘He wants to win as bad as anyone’: Muzzin a constant presence around Leafs
After missing the last two games with an undisclosed injury, defenceman Rasmus Sandin skated on the third pair at practice.
“The practice was important for him to get through,” Keefe said. “We will see how he is through the rest of the day. At this point, it is probably looking like another day or two could really benefit him. He is not far away. I think he was really close today, but we may take a little more cautious approach with him. We will see. He is at the point now where he is improving dramatically every day. Strength is not quite where they need it to be, but if that improves significantly and takes a big turn tomorrow, I feel like he could be a possibility. All of that is to say he is very close, one way or the other.”
Conor Timmins has filled in for Sandin the last two games.
Lines at Thursday’s practice:
Bunting – Matthews – Nylander
Tavares – O’Reilly – Marner
Engvall – Kampf – Jarnkrok
Aston-Reese – Acciari – Kerfoot
Rielly – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren
Sandin – Holl
Benn – Timmins
Power-play units at Thursday’s practice:
Rielly, Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander
Timmins/Sandin, Jarnkrok, Engvall/Liljegren, O’Reilly, Bunting
Matthews, Nylander, Tavares, O’Reilly, Marner
Bruins F Greer suspended one game for cross-checking Habs F Hoffman – TSN
Boston Bruins forward AJ Greer has been suspended one game by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Montreal Canadiens winger Mike Hoffman on Thursday night.
Boston’s A.J. Greer has been suspended for one game for Cross-checking Montreal’s Mike Hoffman. https://t.co/SZkcAlo8qk
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) March 24, 2023
The incident occurred in the first period of Thursday’s 4-2 Bruins win over the Canadiens when the two players were battling prior to a faceoff, which resulted in Greer cross-checking Hoffman in the face.
Greer received a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct, while Hoffman briefly left the game with an injury but returned in the second period.
Greer, 26, has five goals and 11 points in 52 games this season.
Play-off field complete at LGT World Women's Championship – worldcurling.org
The play-off field is set at the LGT World Women’s Curling Championship 2023, taking place from 18–26 March in the Göransson Arena.
Switzerland women completed their round-robin campaign unbeaten (12-0), secured first place in the rankings and a spot in Saturday’s semi-finals.
Norway finished second in the rankings with an 8-4 win-loss record, and they also secured a direct place in the semi-finals.
Canada are ranked third (7-5) and will play sixth-ranked Japan (7-5) in one qualification game. Fourth-ranked Italy (7-5) and fifth-placed hosts Sweden (7-5) will play in the other qualification game.
Both qualification games will take place on Saturday 25 March at 10:00 and the winners of these games earn a place in the semi-finals.
Switzerland will play the winner of the Italy vs Sweden game in one semi-final, while Norway will meet the winner of the Canada vs Japan game in the other semi-final.
Both semi-finals will take place on Saturday at 16:00.
The winners of the semi-finals will play for gold medals and the world title on Sunday 26 March at 15:00. The losers of the semi-finals will play for bronze medals earlier that day, at 10:00.
All times are CET (Central European Time) which is Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +1 hour, except for 26 March, when times are CEST (Central European Summer Time) which is Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +2 hours.
Engage with the World Curling Federation during the LGT World Women’s Curling Championship 2023 on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Weibo and be searching the hashtags #WWCC2023 #curling
Canada narrowly qualifies for playoffs at women's curling worlds despite late loss – CBC.ca
Canada’s Kerri Einarson closed her round-robin schedule with an 11-5 loss to Denmark’s Madeleine Dupont on Friday but still managed to secure a playoff berth at the women’s world curling championship in Sandviken, Sweden.
Her Manitoba-based rink of Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris, which defeated Turkey’s Dilsat Yildiz 10-4 earlier in the day, finished in third place at 7-5 and will face sixth-place Japan (7-5) on Saturday in a qualification match at the Goransson Arena.
The top six teams advanced to the playoffs, with three-time defending champion Switzerland (12-0) and Norway (8-4) getting byes to the semifinals as the top two teams.
Canada fell to Japan 6-5 in round-robin play on Thursday.
Sweden (7-5) and Italy (7-5) meet in the other qualification game.
After conceding to Denmark after eight ends, Canada locked up a spot in a qualification game a short time later when American Tabitha Peterson dropped a 10-6 decision to South Korea’s Seungyoun Ha.
“We were going to have some anxious moments here waiting, but we knew there were a lot of scenarios here where we still make it through,” Birchard said.
The Americans missed the cut at 6-6.
Qualification games and semifinals were scheduled for Saturday and medal games were on tap Sunday.
Einarson won bronze at last year’s world playdowns in Prince George, B.C. Canada hasn’t won gold at this competition since 2018 when Jennifer Jones was victorious in North Bay, Ont.
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