VANCOUVER (Dec. 3) — It’s a no–brainer. And, it should happen by next season.
Morgan Rielly will become the 18th captain in Toronto Maple Leafs history. There is no longer any reason for the club to delay its quest. The successor to Dion Phaneuf has been found. Rielly is the most–skilled defenseman on the team — now, and suddenly, in his fourth National Hockey League season. Of greater significance, he has become the undisputed spokesperson in the dressing room, having made a staggering transformation from the shy, reticent teenager that arrived in Toronto for the 2013–14 season after being chosen fifth overall in the 2012 NHL draft. I am astounded by the confidence, poise and candor with which he has learned to address media inquiries. He is friendly. Engaging. Full of charisma. And… he can play.
The pattern of awarding the ‘C’ to No. 1 overall draft picks (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Connor McDavid) would clearly favor Auston Matthews over Rielly. It is not, however, written in stone. An ideal captain is a player with universal respect among teammates; with an ability to perform at or near an elite level, and with self–assurance in front of cameras, microphones and notepads. Particularly if situated in an all–consuming media market. Rielly has, in abundance, the aforementioned criteria… and, yes, Toronto is rather enamored (to put it mildly) of its NHL team. So, from my perspective, the Maple Leafs have their man.
MY PHOTO OF MORGAN RIELLY SCRUMMING ON FRIDAY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA.
No disrespect toward the “high–ranking” NHL personnel expected to be at Rogers Arena for the Maple Leafs–Vancouver Canucks clash later today. We understand why the league is taking a dim view of potential warfare between the clubs after a third–period free–for–all at the Air Canada Centre four weeks ago tonight. But, I’m bewildered by the number of experienced newspapermen that have cautioned against such activity “because members of the NHL front office will be watching closely from the press box.” Oh no!
Having been around hockey players for the better part of four decades, I’m rather skeptical about the Maple Leafs and Canucks sleeping fitfully the past couple of nights. Or, enduring abdominal disquietude. I mean, think about it: Can’t you just see Nazem Kadri gliding toward center–ice for the opening face–off while glancing nervously upward and to his left. “I wonder how many of those people in the press box are from the NHL? This is too much. Gosh, I’d better behave.” As if Kris King, Mike Murphy or any of my ol’ pals in the league’s chain of command will swoop down with a cape and body–suit at the first sign of combat.
THE FRONT SPORTS–PAGE OF THE VANCOUVER PROVINCE STOKED THE FIRE THIS MORNING.
Let’s also try to remember that the NHL needs not to be “in the building” to scrutinize every moment of every game. This is no longer the 1970’s or 80’s when aggravated club officials threatened to “send a tape” to the league office (though you still occasionally hear that ridiculous phrase). All NHL games are televised live in 2016 and all are viewed simultaneously by impassioned employees in the Toronto “war room.” No person of recent ilk has been overheard stammering, “Jeez, I wonder if commissioner Bettman will be able to see what just happened. I’d better make a note of it.”
If the Leafs and Canucks misbehave again tonight, chances are an excessive fine or two may be levied. If a player on either team is assaulted with a chair or a foreign object, an extra game could be tacked onto a suspension. But, please. Spare me the stuff about the Little Lord Fauntleroy’s squirming in their boots over NHL personnel being “on hand” here in Vancouver.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY (TO ME)
If you have paid any attention to this corner in the past week, you may be aware that tonight marks the 50th anniversary of my first NHL game. My father, Irv, took me to see the Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at Maple Leaf Gardens exactly one–half century ago: Saturday, Dec. 3, 1966. Dad was 33. I was two months shy of my eighth birthday. We sat rather low in the east Blues (they would become Reds in 1974); probably in Sec. 53, just inside the north blue line. It was the first time I’d ever seen color at a hockey game, as both TV’s in our house were black–and–white models. To actually look at the Leafs in their blue home uniforms; Detroit in its predominantly–white jersey with red trim and red pants… well, the memory has stood the test of time.
To accommodate color television, Maple Leaf Gardens had installed a row of bright flood–lights on a girder above the west seats for the 1966–67 NHL season. They stretched the length of the arena. If seated on the east side, as we were 50 years ago tonight, the lights were “in our eyes”. Still, I remember being blown away by such hockey legends as Gordie Howe, Johnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk, Tim Horton, Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich skating back and forth merely 50 feet in front of me. Let’s just say I was hooked on the game.
(Here’s a coincidence: I took my son to his first Leafs home game — at the ACC — on this date 11 years ago. We watched San Jose and Toronto on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2005. Shane will be 20 on Tuesday).
FRONT COVERS OF THE HOCKEY NEWS FROM DEC. 3 AND DEC. 10, 1966.
BENEATH CHICAGO AT MONTREAL IS THE SCORING SUMMARY FROM MY FIRST NHL GAME. TERRY SAWCHUK PLAYED IN NET FOR TORONTO; HANK BASSEN FOR DETROIT. NOT ONE MINUTE AFTER THE OPENING FACE–OFF DID RED KELLY OF THE LEAFS SCORE THE FIRST OF INNUMERABLE LIVE GOALS I WOULD WITNESS THROUGH THE DECADES.
DAVE KEON WAS THE NHL’s TOP PLAYER 50 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK…
AND, BOBBY ORR INCURRED THE FIRST OF HIS MANY KNEE INJURIES DURING THE MAPLE LEAFS VISIT TO BOSTON 50 YEARS TOMORROW NIGHT (SUMMARY ABOVE) — DEC. 4, 1966.
WE’VE HAD SOME HAD FOG — BUT NO RAIN! — TODAY HERE IN VANCOUVER. I WILL DESPERATELY MISS MY FAVORITE SEAGULL WHEN I FLY HOME TOMORROW NIGHT. HE (OR SHE) HAS BEEN A CONSTANT PRESENCE ON THE LEDGE OUTSIDE MY HOTEL ROOM.