This story is presented by Michael Dube.
I took in the Ranger-Leaf game Saturday night from the best seats in (my) house. I followed my HNIC routine to the TDot. Grabbed a bag of chips I shouldn’t be eating, cracked a pint of Bud I shouldn’t be guzzling and hoped for the best. Currently riding a 6-game winning streak, there’s not too much to complain about. The usual suspects have all been on the right side of center. Willie is on a tear.
The coach is refreshingly compliant with Leafs Nation requests spanning back to last April. Even though the blue and white took an OTL; a 12-4-1 record under Keefe puts them on pace to make the playoffs, even potentially locking up home-ice advantage. This is as close as we’ve come to having legitimate reasons to be a happy fan base in a lengthy stretch. Though naturally, something is ailing me.
As the broadcast began, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet charted new Leafs in the lineup including Adam Brooks playing his first NHL game as well as the latest injuries. Injuries, which didn’t affect the Leafs to the same extent last year, has plagued the team in full force as of late. Jake Muzzin is week-to-week with a broken foot. Trevor Moore is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms one game after returning from a shoulder injury. Andreas Johnsson continues his lower-body recovery with no timeline for return.
Latest, and perhaps most alarming, Ilya Mikheyev sustained a deep laceration to his wrist arteries and tendon and is looking at playoffs as a best-case return. Based on @NHLInjuryViz website; the Leafs, as I write this story, are fourth in the NHL for man games lost to injury. (13 Defence, 61 Forward, 0 Goalie) Injuries are a part of the game, that much I understand. As a fan, I don’t love that we haven’t had the chance to see our full-roster take the ice. Adversely, I love that we’ve had the chance to see the likes of Engvall and Timashov flourish. Glad to see Adam Brooks get a shot. Not so happy to see Marincin out there trying to mount Ryan Strome like my dog on our neighbours, but I digress.
What really got me thinking was the Mikheyev injury:
Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev suffered a significant laceration to his wrist and is being transported to a local hospital for further evaluation and assessment.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) December 28, 2019
This one hurts, doesn’t it? A rookie by definition; the 6’3”, 195lb borscht fanatic is having an remarkable first campaign with the Leafs. Through 39 games, Mikheyev buried 8 goals, 15 assists for 23 points and a plus-7 rating. Even more disappointing: it truly seemed like he was really just heating up, fitting very well into a new line with Engvall and Tavares. Above all, he’s a truly likeable player. He works his tail off and smiles the whole time he’s doing it. How many other players get their wrist opened up by a razor-sharp skate blade and stay committed to making the 15-foot puck-to-safety-pass before vacating the ice? This leads me to the point that I’d really like to talk about; the uphill battle that this recovery will be.
Without tooting my own horn: I played a little bit of Junior A hockey- 2 games with an underage John Tavares as a matter of fact. (Nottaa big deal) I figure it should have been me that was granted exceptional status but that’s a whole other story. Throughout my time in junior hockey, injured players travelled to games with our team, came to practice with our team and most importantly; had every opportunity to socialize with the rest of the team. Unfortunately, as you climb the ranks and teams begin investing millions of dollars in your services, you stop waiting around to get better and instead begin high-level, high-cost rehab.
It’s great that teams invest substantial money in sport science and team medics. It only makes sense; if your asset is injured, you want that asset repaired in the least time possible. The downside of this is what worries me about the Mikheyev injury.
As a 25-year old Russian, living away from family and friends, barely speaking a new language, and dealing with a lengthy long-term injury, Mikheyev is facing more than the physical scuffle. Traditionally, players with injuries do not travel with the team. They practice at different times. They rehab away from the team gym. They are…isolated. Mental health concerns seem more on the path of common NHL injury speak these days and I agree it’s worth paying attention to. For Souperman, I hope the Leafs do as well.
While scouring twitter for some injury updates about Mikheyev, I came across a well-crafted tweet from @_nickrichard.
Players talk about how isolating it can be when you’re injured and away from the team. This is going to be a really difficult time for Mikheyev in a new country with few people around him. The mental battle will be every bit as tough for him as the physical one.
— Nick (@_nickrichard) December 28, 2019
I am glad to see I’m not the only one thinking about the mental side of this recovery. In the past; players as significant as Sidney Crosby have been limited from exposure to their teammates while injured which has spiralled into depression and loneliness. Dan Carcillo has been outspoken, largely through Twitter, about his isolation and how it made him feel like he didn’t have a purpose to his team. The psychological side of injuries is real. It would be a shame if a rookie, making such a splash with his new team took a hit on the ice because of isolation off of it. The good news is that NHL teams have begun employing new methods to combat the mental anguish of injuries.
In 2012, the Pittsburgh Penguins began having Crosby at practice to offset his loneliness even though he wasn’t able to participate. In 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs brought Auston Matthews on the road after he was sidelined with a shoulder injury. The now infamous, ex-Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock stated that it would have been a different story if Matthews had a wife and 3 kids at home. Though Babcock has been all but outlawed in Toronto, this point makes a lot of sense. Nazem Kadri agreed with Babcock in 2014. “The mental side of not being around the team is the most frustrating part” The bright side, if there is one, is that Mikheyev will have some company, at least for the first few weeks. With Muzzin and Johnsson’s LBI’s and Moore’s concussion, there will be a crowd around the treatment table. Here’s to hoping that the Leafs can insulate Soup well and have him back in tip-top shape in no time. Get well Soon Ilya!
In the spirit of this story, I wanted to add: This time of the year is a tough one for many of our friends, foes, loved ones, teammates and opponents. Reach out to those who might be dealing with anxiety, depression, loneliness amongst other mental health hurdles if you can. Having someone to listen can make all the difference in the world in saving someone’s life!
Happy New Year to all!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: crisisservicescanada.ca