You have to admit, it was a pretty smooth ride out of the gate in Toronto for Babcock and Lou. The ship was (and remains) on course with very few waves. Up until the Maple Leafs started to create a wake of their own, with the help of James Reimer. The “P” word was uttered and although brushed off by many who understand there is an object to playing the game and the coach must motivate not only himself but the room. Problem is, in Toronto we are so used to disappointment it’s come to the point where we now desire it. Nightingale Syndrome, or something like that. I’m not looking it up. Our little run of victories triggered it and now have us worried about a multitude of issues. Like guys who were already deemed as outcasts will hang onto roles here. Worried we won’t get the pick we covet, that we’ll believe in a playoff run, waiting for the eventual letdown. Then we have Jonathan Bernier’s storyline to feed our blood thirst for abuse. Who doesn’t love an old fashion goalie controversy? (Nobody raises hand, except that Reimerholic guy or #TradeBernier). Or how about the drama around Frank Corrado? All of a sudden Babcock the “saviour” and Lou the “knowledgeable” are being brought into question. What are they going to do to screw this up? We can’t be blamed for this thought process after the last several years. It’s what we know, it’s all we’ve ever known. It doesn’t have to be like this and it won’t be much longer. What if things weren’t this way? What if the life as a Leaf fan was altogether different? What if we were winners.
Nobody knows the future, but Mike Babcock, Lou, Shanny, they seem to be pretty confident they know where how this story will end. Getting there won’t be easy, they’ve said as much, and these men won’t have such calm waters to navigate as the season moves on. Once the bloom is off the rose there brilliance will be in constant state of question. We are starting to see it happen now. So until we get there during that period before the pay off, until we gather to brag about our team, not argue about its levels of ineptitude, we need distractions. Leafs fans could use a reason to keep their chins up until reinforcements come. Reinforcements like Mitchell Marner.
It was seeing Marner at the announcement of the 30 man Team Canada World Junior camp that got me thinking about what things are going to be like down the road for us all. There was a shot of Marner and Babcock looking at each other and I thought “Wow, we are going to be a somebody.” If I say it’s distractions we need, distractions that show you what life can be like, then there couldn’t possibly be a better one the over the holidays in Finland. As Canadians, we are always excited for the World Juniors. As Leafs fans, this year reaches a new level of anticipation. The hope is that Travis Dermott finds his way on the roster and I personally feel he will. But we all know where our eyes will be drawn when the team hits the ice. I think back to the year we had Wellwood, Stajan, White, Coliaccovo, that’s probably the last time the Maple Leafs were such big players on display. Never really like this though, where our top pick from last year is the face of Team Canada. But the World Juniors aren’t for another few weeks and we need something positive immediately. Lucky for us, tonight we get a look into the future. A look at a young man who could very well be our on-ice leader for the next decade, when Windsor visit London. A game Nationally televised on Sportsnet at 7:30pm.
Marner’s game this year in London, I guess it would be fair to say by his standards got off to a slow start. About a point a game the first few. Chances were there but just not as clearly the dominant best player on the ice after returning from the Maple Leafs. Don’t be alarmed, I noticed a few who were when he didn’t own October. I will try and ease your mind by telling you that over the last few weeks I’ve watched the Knights closely and Marner has been out of his mind good. The scoresheet may say 3, 3, 4 points every night, but it truthfully isn’t doing him justice. I don’t have to convince anyone who saw him at the CAN/RSA Challenge or has been following London’s games. Most night he could easily have 5 or 6 points and if he ever shot more they might even all be goals. Every game he creates amazing chances and there’s little doubt that during the second half we’ll see more of those big point total games. He’s peaking right now and at what better time than on the cusp of playing for Team Canada. You’ll see what I’m talking about if you tune in this evening. Whatever drama is unfolding with the Maple Leafs during the tournament I’m quite convinced Marner’s performance will overshadow. What I look forward to the most in many ways is Marner having the National stage, like tonight. He has that God given ability to elevate like he showed in last years OHL playoffs and in his last two games in a red jersey. The bigger the spotlight, the bigger the stage, the grander the performance.
Over the holidays, hold on Leafs Nation. I know we aren’t used to what’s ahead. Life as a winner. So hopefully we’ll get some practice, a little reprieve from Toronto, and something to keep feeling good about. Nazem Kadri or Tyler Bozak? Bernier or Reimer or Sparks or Carleton? Lupul on IR? They are the tired stories of today, the ones we’ve grown accustomed to. The story of a young man told he’s too small (last measurement he’s hit 6’0”) to play at a high level who is going to first lead Team Canada into battle, then our Maple Leafs, these are the stories of relevancy to tomorrow.
The world as a Toronto Maple Leaf is changing and Mitch Marner is going to help change it. The main event comes to theatres Dec. 26th from Finland and I’d say I hope you can all handle the time-zone change, but this is Leafs fans I’m talking to. As for now, tonight you get a sneak preview. Enjoy the distraction from the Leafs, and enjoy the “Magic” Marner show. We aren’t going to need distractions much longer, folks. Soon tonight’s distraction will be our main attraction.