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'OBVIOUSLY, I LOVE TORONTO': Blue Jays' Robbie Ray captures AL Cy Young Award – Toronto Sun



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Robbie Ray was willing to bet on himself last winter, astutely handicapping his own improving form by signing a one-year deal with the Blue Jays.


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The left-hander did so believing that doing so had the potential to reap rewards.

And perhaps even awards.

Not only was he the ace starter of the Jays rotation, by the end of the season, Ray’s career year took him to market as one of the most in-demand pitchers in free agency this winter.

But before he cashes in on his career year, on Wednesday, Ray was celebrated as one of the best arms in the game as he was named the American League Cy Young Award winner.

And as a result, Ray now will follow the best season of his career with the biggest off-season.

The suitors are lining up, he noted on a conference call with the media following Wednesday’s announcement, a process he is enjoying with his family and agent.

So where does that leave the team that helped get him there?


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“Toronto is still in the conversation,” Ray said. “We’re still talking to Toronto (management) on a daily basis, but we’re testing the free-agent market.

“Obviously, I love Toronto. We’ll see where things go.”

While praising his time with the Jays, Ray was upfront about the enticing reality facing a player of his age (30) coming off a huge season. The suitors are many and the money will be piled high as he decides on what figures to be a once in a career, life-altering deal. In the meantime, Ray will take time to enjoy the honour, the fourth player and the fifth time a Jays hurler won the award — the first since Roy Halladay in 2003 (Pat Hentgen in 1996 and Roger Clemens in 1997 and 1998).

“Being an elite pitcher is always on my mind,” Rays said, when asked if he had every considered himself a contender for the honour. “I know that the stuff was there. It was just a matter of putting it all together. The Cy Young was definitely on the radar.


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“It was a matter of everything falling into place, the mental and the physical. My focus was on what I needed to do to get to that place.”

Though he was solid from the outset of the season, Ray clearly wowed voters with a strong second half to the season and easily defeated New York Yankees star Gerrit Cole.

Ray received 29 of a possible 30 first-place votes and the Chicago White Sox’s Lance Lynn from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

He went 13-7 in 32 starts for the Jays, compiling a 2.84 ERA and major-league leading 248 strikeouts in 193.1 innings.

The award was a just result for what has been an incredible transformation by the southpaw. Consider that for much of the early part of the 2020 season, his command was lost as he walked an untoward number of batters with Arizona. By the end of 2021, he had become a pinpoint strikeout machine with the Jays.


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As remarkable as the turnaround appeared, it was not surprising to Jays pitching coach Pete Walker, whose keen eye for detail has helped many an incoming pitcher sharpen their form.

And in Ray, Walker said he had an attentive student who had the desire to make the best of the strong tools buried by his control issues.

“He had a great work ethic, a great desire to get better,” Walker said on Wednesday. “He was fun to work with from February to October. (The award) was well-deserved.”

Ray acknowledged the tweaks and information provided by Walker and his staff took care of the mechanical part of his rebirth. But he also noted that a big off-season in which he transformed himself physically made him a stronger pitcher as well as a sharper one.


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“Mentally, I feel I am as tough as anyone,” Ray said. “The mindset was always there. It was just putting the physical stuff with the mindset.

“For me, going into 2021, I knew I wanted to make changes. I wanted to get stronger. I knew if I got stronger that I was going to be in a better position as far as physical strength.”

No matter where he ends up in 2022 and beyond, Ray will have a soft spot for the Jays and the trajectory his time with the club vaulted his career. After joining the Jays at the 2020 trade deadline, Ray was signed to a one-year, $8-million US deal last November.

It was a low-risk move for the Jays — who needed help with their starting rotation — and a savvy bet by Ray, who figured if he continued to improve he’d cash in sweetly this off-season.

“I enjoyed Toronto, the front office was super helpful with everything,” Ray said. “The players in the clubhouse, they are a great group of guys. We enjoyed every minute together.

“It was a lot of fun.”



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Quick Reaction: Grizzlies 98, Raptors 91 – Raptors Republic



Tough one.

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P. Siakam30 MIN, 20 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 9-19 FG, 1-6 3FG, 1- FT, 3 BLK, 2 TO, -1 +/-

Unquestionably the most difficult matchup on both sides of the floor. Had to navigate the newly dominant defender, ‘JJJ’, and hold up the back end of the Raptors motion heavy defense. He was great navigating inside the arc offensively, and really needs to hit his C&S threes. Overall an impressive game, but the foul trouble brings a knock, where he has to strike the balance of how to stay on the floor. Lots of things to like, but you need more minutes from him in close games.

P. Achiuwa29 MIN, 5 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-8 FG, 0-1 3FG, 4- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

The offensive warts have been aplenty this year, and this game was no different. His moment as an offensive hub was a fever dream of terrible possessions and he still didn’t move well to assist teammates. The defense is still really solid, though. No one contests the rim like he does on this squad. The rebounding really hurt in this one.

S. Barnes38 MIN, 19 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 8-16 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0- FT, 4 BLK, 4 TO, -11 +/-

What a rollercoaster from the rookie. The ‘look back’ is generating its first negative reviews, and ‘JJJ’ swatted the hell out of him while hot dogging. A few defensive gaffes, but some fantastical scrambles for steals and blocks. The NBA’s best 3rd quarter player, still, and those threes in the fourth quarter were inspired. This game had everything, and I’m inclined to take away more positives.

F. VanVleet42 MIN, 15 PTS, 9 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 6-13 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2- FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, -2 +/-

I don’t envy his workload. Another 42 mins for the league’s minutes leader, and it was an absolute grind. Started out the game carrying with some shotmaking, but that subsided as the game wore on. Very little punch from him in the set actions, and didn’t hurt the Grizzlies as a spacer. Still though, his defensive presence was incredibly important to the Raptors getting back in this thing. Not his best, but he’s everything for this team right now.

S. Mykhailiuk18 MIN, 7 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-8 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

Still looking for the shot to come around. One of his better defensive games this year as he paired well with others in impromptu doubles and traps. Failed a little bit as a ball mover offensively though, and still isn’t meeting the level of play the team needs from him, and that he should be able to provide.

C. Boucher7 MIN, 6 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 3- FT, 2 BLK, 0 TO, -8 +/-

Wild 7 minutes. Got a step on ‘JJJ’ for an And-1, had a thunderous dunk to close a quarter, but was also out at sea for numerous defensive possessions where the Raptors surrendered points. Particularly in the pick n’ roll.

Y. Watanabe29 MIN, 11 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-8 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

This scoring output, if replicated, is something that would make everyone extremely happy. Opportunistic as a cutter, definitely as a shooter, and an unbelievably dependable defender. Great game off the bench for Yuta.

M. Flynn22 MIN, 5 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-8 FG, 1-7 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -13 +/-

It was great to see him reach back and hit that 3 late, but it was couched in a performance that was below average. When the ball is in his hands the Raptors just don’t create, and the drop off from Fred to him (although they shared the floor tonight) is colossal.

D. Banton15 MIN, 2 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, +3 +/-

Grab and Go. Always. He pushes the Raptors into spots that few other players do, and they rest of the roster doesn’t fail him when they all start running. His length and activity was a positive defensively and on the glass. All you could hope for from him in games like these.

I. Bonga11 MIN, 1 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, +3 +/-

The offensive limitations are very on display, but a terrific stretch of defense, and two separate occasions where he put pressure on the rim gave the Raptors enough in his minutes.

Nick Nurse

It’s tough to critique a coach in a game like this. The non-Fred+Pascal’s started the game 6-27, and on a lot of good looks. That’s not coaching. And the team played good defense basically all game, despite getting bludgeoned on the glass to start. If you have qualms about Fred and Pascal sitting at the same time in the first half, that’s fair, but Siakam nearly fouled out anyway. Tough to say.

Things We Saw

  1. Per Michael Grange, JJJ weighs in at roughly 270, putting Siakam at almost 40 pounds lighter – yikes. Got blocked going to his left 3 separate occasions, and many other players just don’t make that play. He’s arrived defensively for the Grizzlies, and he helped so much tonight. And his movement at that size is incredible – he beat the Raptors stunts off the dribble on a few different occasions.
  2. Too many minutes for Fred every game. His body needs a rest.
  3. Love it or hate it, Scottie’s look backs are going to grace Shaqtin A Fool and other lowlight segments. Personally, I think it’s super funny and speaks to his effervescent personality. But, he might catch a fade some day because of it.

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Briere ranks high on list of candidates to fill Canadiens' GM vacancy –



“It’s important for the GM to have final say on the decisions, for sure. But to have two people to talk, debate and offer different perspectives to make the decisions makes us much better able to make the right decisions.” — Geoff Molson.

Good concept outlined above, but allow us to present how we actually see the power dynamic playing out between new executive VP of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and whomever the owner of the Montreal Canadiens and Gorton decide will be the next general manager.

Surely Gorton didn’t leave the money still owed to him on his terminated contract with the New York Rangers to take a job with this title only to then relinquish control of the hockey decisions to the person he’s helping to hire. With nearly 30 years of front-office experience in various capacities in the NHL, and with other looming opportunities to head up operations for other teams likely available to him, he didn’t choose to come to Montreal only to give way to a first-time general manager.

This structure was obviously put in place because Molson is staying true to his commitment to appoint a GM who can communicate to the people of Quebec — and to Canadiens fans around the world — in both English and French, and Gorton only speaks English.

That leaves the man calling the shots in the shadows, which was probably as attractive as any other reason Gorton might have considered before accepting the role. The GM will alleviate him from having to be the team’s spokesperson, help with the operations, forge new relationships and then likely take on more and more responsibility as time goes on, while Gorton uses his own experience to do the heavy lifting of building out the staff and the plan.

“It’s important to find someone who complements the skillset that Jeff’s bringing us,” said Molson. “Someone who maybe has a bit of a different vision, someone who has an expertise that’s different, someone who learned from another organization and in a different way.”

We think that person should be someone who’s malleable. An upstart-type who’s willing to enter into this power structure and grow within it. Someone who’s well-respected throughout the hockey world, and someone who can help fill another important quotient former GM Marc Bergevin did throughout his near 10-year-long reign in Montreal.

“Berge played 1,000 games in the league and he knows the day-to-day grind of the season,” explained Canadiens defenceman Ben Chairot on Tuesday. “He knows exactly what we’re feeling and what we’re going through. That’s kind of what made him special and unique as a GM is he’s right in there with us and knows what we’re feeling after we come in after a loss or we come in after long road trip, and he was essentially a part of the team and another one of the guys. I think that’s why he had so much respect from the guys in the room.”

We can’t think of a candidate more suited to fill that mandate — and every other requirement — than Daniel Briere. And from what we’ve been told, the former Canadien is high up on the list of candidates being considered.

We’ll dig into the rest of them below, but Briere, who played close to 1,000 games in the NHL and produced at a near-point-per-game pace in 124 playoff games over an illustrious career, has been preparing for a job like this since he hung up his skates six years ago.

The 44-year-old went straight from the ice to the front office when he was brought on by the Philadelphia Flyers in October 2015. He started off in the organization he played for by shadowing team president and former GM Paul Holmgren, he later took on a role in player development that he’s still in to this day, and in 2017 he assumed vice-president and general manager duties of the team’s ECHL affiliate in Maine.

The Mariners were in their infancy and Briere was charged with building their team from the ground up. He was involved in everything from recruitment to logo design, according to this expansive piece from Radio Canada’s Martin Leclerc.

In 2018, Briere also began pursuing a degree in business administration at the most prestigious financial school in the United States, Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. He did it because, even if he had already proven himself as a leader as a former captain of the Buffalo Sabres, he wanted to round out his profile.

It was during that year that the Mariners became the affiliate of the New York Rangers. While Briere did have some contact with Gorton, who was GM of the NHL club, most of his dealings were with former Sabres teammate Chris Drury, who was working underneath Gorton before succeeding him.

Still, Gorton would’ve been exposed to Briere’s kind manner, and have gotten a glimpse of what many around the hockey world have observed.

“He’s a great guy,” said a source we touched base with who’s close with Briere. “Molson said they want to hire a GM soon, and he’d be ready to go right away.

“And he wants this, there’s no question.”

The Gatineau, Que., native isn’t alone on that front.

Here are some other top candidates.

Patrick Roy

The Hall-of-Fame goaltender, who helped the Canadiens win their last two Stanley Cups before an ugly divorce from the team, spoke on Tuesday and made it abundantly clear he wants the job.

“Of course I’m saying to myself, ‘What do they have to lose giving me a try,’” Roy said when speaking to Le Journal De Quebec. “The club has been turning in circles since 1993, so what do they have to lose by seeing what I can do with it?

“At the same time, I understand the situation. The club belongs to Geoff Molson and it’s him who pulls the strings. It’s his team and maybe I’m not the guy for him, and I can accept that.”

Still, Molson and Gorton should give Roy a call.

We’re talking about a pure winner who recently had major influence on building what most consider to be the most talented team in the NHL over in Colorado.

However, if it’s generally perceived the current GM and coach of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts wouldn’t be willing to be a partner, let alone subservient to the new exec VP of hockey ops, it would have to do with his resignation as head coach of the Avalanche in 2016, when he felt his voice wasn’t being considered enough in personnel decisions GM Joe Sakic was making.

Roy sought to undo some of that perception on Tuesday, saying, “I’ve always been a guy who likes working as a team and I’m ready to learn, to listen and to develop on any team process. I’ve been working for 14 years with (Remparts owner) Jacques Tanguay and we’ve never had a problem.”

That said, we don’t think he should apologize for being who he is — a passionate, strong-minded person who will fight for what he thinks is right.

Nonetheless, while Roy’s strong personality lends well to the conviction you need to operate with as GM, he’ll have to convince Molson and Gorton it won’t get in the way of the dynamic they’re looking to establish.

Meanwhile, the marketing appeal of a big reunion with the Canadiens — mending a massive wound and, in some fans’ eyes, reversing a curse the team has been under since he was traded in 1995 — should, at the very least, be compelling.

Mathieu Darche

Darche is a viable candidate for many of the same reasons Briere is. He’s a former player, he’s well-educated and he picked up valuable experience as a former VP of sales and marketing with Montreal cargo management company Delmar International before joining the Tampa Bay Lightning as director of hockey operations in 2019.

Now that he’s got two Stanley Cup rings, his profile has certainly risen. Riding shotgun with Julien BriseBois probably hasn’t hurt it.

But whether or not that profile is high enough for Molson and Gorton to offer him the job is debatable.

Martin Madden Jr.

The assistant general manager of the Anaheim Ducks is known as arguably the best evaluator of amateur talent in the NHL.

Close to two dozen prospects chosen under his watch since 2009 have played over 100 games in the world’s best league — no other team in the NHL has done as well in this department — and many fans are clamouring for him to bring those skills to a Canadiens team that will likely be drafting very high this summer and could be on the precipice of a rebuild.

While we see Madden Jr. as the optimal replacement for Trevor Timmins, who was in charge of Montreal’s last 17 drafts before he was fired on Sunday, we’re not sure he’d leave Anaheim for a sideways move. The Seattle Kraken tried to pry him away in 2021, but he opted to stay in Anaheim under executive VP of hockey ops and GM Bob Murray.

What’s interesting is that when Murray resigned and enrolled in an alcohol abuse rehabilitation program following an investigation into his “improper professional conduct,” it wasn’t Madden Jr. who replaced him.

“That’s probably because he’s spent almost all of his hockey career touring junior rinks and plucking out talent and never really entering rooms and dealing with pro hockey players,” a source said to us. “He’s a very nice man, but he’s more of an introverted man and I’m not sure how that plays with being GM in Montreal and in the role it appears they’re looking to fill.

“His track record is definitely impeccable, but he also hasn’t been too involved, if he ever has, in negotiating and signing contracts for players and dealing with rival GMs and so on.”

Still, Gorton has.

And even if there’s been some overlap between both men’s skillsets, Madden Jr. has to be considered a candidate.

Whether or not he can fulfil other business duties of the role and sufficiently relate to the public — and to his players — is in question.

Roberto Luongo

One of the game’s most popular personalities has been honing his experience as an executive with the Florida Panthers since 2019.

There’s no question Luongo, who could headline the 2022 Hall of Fame class after an illustrious and decorated playing career, fits much of the criteria outlined for the role in Montreal.

Whether or not the gold medal-winning goaltender would be compelled to leave the life he’s established in Florida to do the job with his hometown team is the big question.

If the answer is yes, an executive we touched based with sees him as an excellent fit.

“The people I talk to in Florida love working with him and consider him a really sharp hockey mind,” he said. “There’s a reason he’s an assistant GM for Canada’s Olympic team.”

Molson promised an exhaustive search, so there are sure to be some candidates overlooked in this space.

But here are some other names that might be considered:

Jocelyn Thibault

The former Canadiens goaltender, who was part of the Roy trade in 1995, is the GM of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix and was just named executive director of Hockey Quebec.

We asked him if he’d be interested in the job.

“I just arrived with Hockey Quebec, and I have a big mandate in front of me,” he said. “But if the Canadiens came calling, of course I would take the call.”

Stephane Quintal

After years of working for the NHL, sources have indicated the former Canadiens defenceman would have been more interested in a job as team president.

Vincent Damphousse

The former Canadiens captain, who works for RDS, said on that station on Monday that he’s not interested in the position.

Scott White

The Ormstown, Que., native has had plenty of success running the AHL’s Texas Stars since 2009 and was promoted to director of hockey ops with Dallas in 2013.

The former player for the Lac-Saint-Louis Lions moved up to assistant GM with the Stars in 2016 and, according to our sources, has major ambitions to one day become a GM.

John Sedgwick

The current director of legal affairs and VP of hockey ops for the Canadiens has done a masterful job managing the cap since joining the organization in 2013. Hailing from Toronto, his French is still sufficient enough for the position and he’s under contract for two more seasons after this one.

Martin Lapointe

Lapointe was originally brought on as director of player development in 2012. He was named director of amateur scouting and given a new three-year contract last January.

As for his candidacy for the GM job, it would be surprising to see him named considering how scouting and development have been major weaknesses for the Canadiens in the Bergevin era.

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Red-hot Leafs maintain road-warrior mentality ahead of season's 'toughest test' – TSN



William Nylander

TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

The first game back from the West Coast can be a tricky one so Sheldon Keefe has come up with an interesting plan to try and keep his group in a groove. 

“My approach was that, essentially, today and tomorrow’s game are an extension of the road trip,” the coach said. “We haven’t necessarily settled at home yet. I’ve already spent as much time in this building as I have at home since coming back.”

The team flew back from California on Monday after wrapping up a 4-0-0 road trip. Keefe didn’t make it through his front door until 6:30 p.m. A few hours later, he was back on the ice at practice. 

“We knew we couldn’t push the guys too hard today,” Keefe said following a 35-minute session. “I wanted the intensity to be high within that short time frame and I thought it was. I liked the pace and energy that we had. Once the whistle blew, I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen the ice clear so that’s a pretty good indication of where our guys are at.”

The players haven’t enjoyed a full day off since Nov. 19. There is a day off scheduled on Thursday. So, Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche is a real mental test. 

“As much as it’s a boost to be back home and playing in front of our fans tomorrow, we still haven’t really recovered from the road trip,” Keefe stressed. “We have to still be treating it like you’re on the road where you got to take care of yourself, you got to make sure you’re getting good sleep and staying focused on how we’ve played and what we’ve done to succeed on the road.” 

It would be easy to relax and let the foot off the gas considering the 14-2-0 run the team is on. 

“Our mindset has to stay with where it was,” Keefe said. “The fact we are still feeling a little weary from the road, that will help us stay in that mindset. That’s what I was trying to reinforce today.”

Leafs Ice Chips: Even at home, the road trip continues

The Maple Leafs have returned home following a perfect 4-0 road trip, which saw them outscore the opposition 18-4. Typically, teams returning from a California road swing sees a dip in play in their first game back on home ice, but as TSN’s Mark Masters explains, head coach Sheldon Keefe is taking a different approach to avoid a let down.

Toronto’s incredible run has been fuelled not by a scoring surge, but by stingy defensive play. Since Oct. 26, Toronto leads the NHL in goals against per game (1.63). 

“Everyone’s buying in and that’s what it starts with,” said forward Alex Kerfoot. “It really starts with a decision amongst the group that everyone really has to buy into it and everyone has to be on the same page. When, on an individual level, you’re all committing to defence it really helps the team game as well and structurally we’ve been great.”

“Everybody’s doing what the game plan is and also some more,” said goalie Jack Campbell, who leads the league in save percentage (.946).

The Avalanche lead the league in goals per game (four) this season. Colorado has won seven of eight games and Nathan MacKinnon is expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday. 

“We’ve been really consistent over the last little while with the way we’re defending and just the mindset and the attitude,” captain John Tavares said. “No question, we’re probably going to have our toughest test with that tomorrow.”

Despite just wrapping up the most successful month, by wins (12), in franchise history, no one seems too satisfied. On Tuesday, Tavares was quick to point out where his team can be better. 

“The last couple of games we probably haven’t sustained momentum maybe as much as we would like,” Toronto’s leading scorer (22 points) said. “We can be a little better through the neutral zone. When that’s going really well that’s when we can really play with the puck and play to our strengths with the depth we have and the skill-sets that we got.”

‘The boys are having a blast’: Leafs are ‘buying in’ and racking up wins

The Leafs went 12-2-0 in November setting a new franchise record for wins in a calendar month.”The boys are just having a blast,” said Jack Campbell after Toronto tied the franchise record with a seventh straight road win. The team’s stingy defensive play has fuelled the hot streak. “Everyone’s buying in and that’s what it starts with,” said Alex Kerfoot.

It seems like a long time since the Leafs lost four straight (0-3-1) in October. The team has looked much different on and off the ice since then. 

Toronto adopted a relaxed dress code at the start of the season, but when the losses piled up the team went back to the traditional suits approach. 

“Management just felt that they wanted to go back,” Tavares revealed. “There was a mutual understanding of the expectations on a daily basis with giving us more of the freedom and [they] felt the standards we needed to be at weren’t quite at the level.”

Tavares explains why Leafs management scrapped relaxed dress code

Earlier this season, the Maple Leafs switched from the familiar hockey dress code of suits, to a more casual approach. Recently however, team management decided to return to traditional look on game days.

Petr Mrazek was a full participant at practice on Tuesday.

“Happy to be back, I can tell you that,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s been a tough start for me. I try to be positive and work hard to get back.” 

Mrazek suffered a groin injury in his first start of the season on Oct. 14 in Ottawa. He hurt the groin again in his first game back on Oct. 30. 

“I started feeling it a little bit during the game but it wasn’t as bad as in Ottawa so I finished the game,” Mrazek recalled. “A few days after, we were looking at it and it wasn’t getting any better.”

Mrazek visited with a groin specialist, who advised him to shut things down. Tuesday marked his first full practice since then. 

Keefe says the plan is for Mrazek to ramp up his workload in the coming days before joining the Marlies for an American Hockey League conditioning stint this weekend. 

“It’s frustrating,” Mrazek said of his start in Toronto. “Hopefully it’s going to have a great end. It’s early in the season. The season’s long.” 

Mrazek returns to full practice for Leafs

Petr Mrazek says he’s feeling good after being a full participant at Maple Leafs practice on Tuesday. Sheldon Keefe says they’ll ramp up his workload over the next couple of days and he will hopefully see game action with the Marlies on the weekend.

Mrazek did travel with the team to California last week, which allowed him to continue to bond with his new teammates, including Kyle Clifford. The pair will forever be connected by the David Ayres game. On that fateful night – Feb. 22, 2020 – Hurricanes starter James Reimer got hurt and was replaced by Mrazek. Mrazek then got injured when he and Clifford collided while both going for a loose puck. 

“We did talk about that,” Mrazek said with a smile. “We sit next to each other on the plane and [while] playing poker. All good. We talked about it a little bit. He said he was going to for a breakaway. He was making a joke about that. He’s a great guy and those things, when you play against a team, happen.”

After Mrazek departed, emergency back-up goalie Ayres, a 42-year-old, took centre stage and recorded the win. 

“You don’t even think in that moment that you don’t have any back-up on the bench,” Mrazek recalled. “You just go for the puck if you have to and that’s what happened.”

Would he do the same thing again? 

“Yeah, I would go for the puck again,” Mrazek said with a grin. 

But the Czech native is well aware that the Ayres game is still a sore subject in this city. 

What does he think about what happened after he left the game? 

“I don’t think we have to talk about that,” he said. 

Now teammates, Mrazek jokes with Clifford looking back on Ayres game

Kyle Clifford collided with Petr Mrazek last year which resulted in the infamous David Ayres emergency goalie game. Now being teammates, Mrazek says the two have shared some jokes over the incident while playing cards.

Keefe hasn’t hesitated to tweak a winning lineup and he will make another change on Wednesday. Joey Anderson, who has five goals and two assists in 13 AHL games, will make his season debut with the Leafs.

“Joey is a guy who works extremely hard,” Keefe said. “He is a versatile player. He has good defensive instincts and a great work ethic. We think he can help on the penalty kill. We liked his camp. We liked his start to the Marlies season. He has been up here a few times with us now and he has done well in our practices.” 

Clifford, who made his season debut with Toronto on Sunday, will be scratched. 

Anderson played just one game with the Leafs last season (Jan. 26 in Calgary). It was a trying year for the 23-year-old from Minnesota. 

“Last year was very hockey-centric,” he said. “I wasn’t able to get away from the game … Being in Canada, my family wasn’t able to come and I’m really close with them. Normally they come and see me once or twice a month so that was tough. When I got here last year, I didn’t know many players in the organization and I was living alone and it was tough for me to be kind of be sitting alone all day.”

Anderson likes to blow off steam by golfing, bowling and, of course, visiting with family and friends.

“This year’s nice,” he said. “My family’s been out here a ton. It’s just been great to interact with people away from the rink again. Even being around the team and guys away from the rink has been, really, a blessing for me this year.”

Anderson accompanied the Leafs to California at the start of the recent road trip, but was recalled to Marlies after just one day out West. That brief cross-continent trip allowed him to catch up with younger brother Mikey Anderson, who is a defenceman with the Los Angeles Kings. The pair had dinner and watched a couple of movies. 

“It was a really nice gesture,” Anderson said. “Obviously, they know how tough last year was on everybody so they’re trying to help everybody out and make sure guys are feeling good. As much as it helped me, I know it definitely was nice for him to see me as well. L.A. is a long way from home for us. Even though we can fly there, it’s not the cheapest thing for our family to get out and see him and any time we can see each other it’s a really special thing.” 

Anderson makes season debut; appreciates gesture from Leafs

Recently-recalled Joey Anderson was in a regular sweater at Leafs practice, and will play against the Avalanche on Wednesday. During Toronto’s recent California swing, the team brought Joey along for the trip, and while he didn’t see game action, he was happy to re-unite with brother and Kings defenceman Mikey Anderson.

Auston Matthews scored in all three games during the California swing, but didn’t rely on his patented wrist shot to start his first goal streak of the season. Instead, he converted on rebounds and deflections. 

“When it’s not going in from the outside you just got to get to the net and I was fortunate to get a couple bounces, a couple good tips and able to cash in,” Matthews said. “I can score from different areas so just try to get to the net. Obviously, that’s where goals are scored a huge percentage of the time.”

Matthews arrived in California having gone 10 games without a goal in five-on-five play, which was his longest drought since his rookie season. All three of his goals on the trip came at even strength. 

“He’s a complete goal scorer,” said Kerfoot. “You know that. We all know that. He can score in just about any way you can put the puck in the net. He’s got great hands. He gets his stick on a lot of pucks. He battles hard to get to those areas and he’s able to really dig pucks out of the front of the net, which is key because there’s always loose pucks around there and he always seems to get the puck on his stick in those situations. And then he’s got great hands in front of the net. He can make people look silly. There’s not many guys who can beat goalies from the outside and he’s one of them so there’s not much more you can ask for out of a goal scorer.”

After undergoing surgery on his left wrist in the summer and missing the first three games of the regular season, Matthews needed some time to get his touch and feel back. Now, after his three-goal outburst in California, Matthews is up to 10 on the season, which is tied for the team lead with Tavares. 

“He just does it all,” said Campbell. “Some of it’s just the touch. Some of it’s the hand-eye coordination. You see him knocking down pucks all over the ice and creating chances, taking pucks away, knocking them down or stick lifting guys. It’s really just fun to watch him and that line’s buzzing for us.” 

‘He just does it all’: Matthews starts a new goal streak the hard way

Auston Matthews scored in all three games during the Leafs swing through California without using his patented wrist shot. “When it’s not going in from the outside you just got to get to the net,” he said. Matthews is now up to 10 goals in 20 games. “He’s a complete goal scorer,” observed Alex Kerfoot. “He can score in just about any way you can put the puck in the net.”

That line currently includes Michael Bunting. Since being promoted to left wing on the Matthews line, he has produced two goals and four assists in four games. 

“It’s been great,” the 26-year-old rookie said. “I hang out with both those guys pretty often off the ice so to play with them on the ice, it’s a lot of fun. I just try and get open, try to retrieve pucks and let them play with their magic. Right now, we’re rolling and hopefully we can keep that going.”

Mitch Marner set up Bunting for a goal on a two-on-one rush on Sunday. 

“Mitch has great vision,” Bunting said. “Probably one of the best visions in the NHL so I know whenever it’s on his stick, I just have to find those soft spots and he’ll find me. He made a helluva pass for my goal.”

Bunting only had two even-strength assists during a nine-game run on the top line earlier this season. He looks a lot more comfortable now.  

“He is more comfortable,” Keefe agreed. “While on the surface playing with players of that calibre is somewhat easier, there are some challenges that come with it that are more difficult than playing lower in the lineup. Some of that is mental — in fact, a lot of it is probably mental. That takes some time, especially for a player that is still really trying to establish himself in the league and trying to get comfortable in the league. That is part of why we reset him a little bit going back down with the expectation that he would move back up. He has gotten his opportunity here and I think he has done a good job.”

Bunting says he’s now more confident making plays with the puck alongside Matthews and Marner. He’s never been shy on the bench, though. Bunting constantly runs his mouth during games whether talking to teammates or opposing players. 

“Oh, it’s great,” said Matthews. “I played with Matthew Tkachuk [at the U.S. National Development Program] so I’m kind of used to it. I like that. We’re just always communicating, making it clear what we’re seeing out there, what we want from each other and always trying to get a better feel for what we’re looking for.”

Chatterbox Bunting making most of second chance on Matthews line

Michael Bunting has two goals and four assists in four games since being promoted back to the Auston Matthews line. The agitating winger talks pretty much non-stop during games, which Matthews is used to courtesy his time playing with Matthew Tkachuk. Bunting hangs out with Matthews and Mitch Marner quite a bit off the ice, but it took some time to feel comfortable alongside them on the ice.

Lines at Leafs practice on Tuesday: 

Bunting – Matthews – Marner 

Kerfoot – Tavares – Nylander 

Engvall – Kampf – Anderson 

Ritchie – Spezza – Simmonds 

Rielly – Brodie 

Muzzin – Holl 

Sandin – Dermott 

Clifford – Liljegren 



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