It has finally begun.
The 2017-18 Season is upon us and not a moment too soon. We have discussed eating habits, trades, UFO’s and everything in between, but the game we love has returned.
Kicking off the year is the Annual Rookie Tournament, this year at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.
Normally held off site (London or Kitchener) the energy level and attendance in those OHL towns is much higher than what was witnessed last night in Toronto. Having said that, the fans that were in attendance were boisterous when the occasion called for it.
Great to see other media people around the rink after a long summer away, and even better was to see Big Daddy McGill in the media room pre-game who suffered a significant stroke this summer. Bob was in good spirits when I talked to him, and was happy to be back at the rink. Welcome back fine sir.
Onto the game.
Leafs fans were eagerly awaiting the debut of newest Leafs pick, Timothy Liljegren. The 17th pick overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, had a difficult time last evening early going. After the smoke cleared, Liljegren was credited with a dash 4 in the game. Looking slightly overwhelmed to start the game, I thought Liljegren settled into his game, and played much more effectively when paired with Andrew Nielsen. As Coach Keefe said post game, the young Swede didn’t look good based mostly on how sloppy the overall play of the team was. Zero concern from Game 1 on North American ice, he will be a stud.
Kasimir Kaskisuo, started the game between the pipes for the Leafs Rookie Team. Coming off of a strong post season run with the Marlies, Kaskisuo was very strong in net last evening. Making two amazing pad saves, both coming on opposite side pushes, there was zero sign of any summer rust in his game. In fact, it will be interesting to see his development vs the incumbent Garret Sparks as the season gets under way with the Marlies. Kaskisuo stopped 14 of 15 shots, and eventually turned over the net to Ian Scott (Prince Albert WHL) who was effective but not to the level of the aforementioned Kaskisuo.
Forward Martins Dzierkals also played well for the Leafs/Marlies team. After being rocked twice, early in the game, Dzierkals picked up his pace and score one of the two goals on the evening for the Rookie Squad. Shifty, and sees the ice well, this should be a defining season in the career for the native of Latvia. Standing in at 5’11 and weighing 170 lbs the Leafs organization has another smallish, quick winger on the radar for the Professional team in a few years.
Mason Marchment, one of my favourite kids, had a solid and physical game. A few big hits on one shift, followed up by a great scoring opportunity had the Ricoh crowd cheering loudly. Keep an eye on this kid, if he can gain a bit of speed, there might be a spot for him as a call up in the future.
Carl Grundstrom scored the other Leafs goal on a tipped shot from Jeremy Bracco, assist to Andrew Nielsen. Grundstrom played a decent game, again knowing exactly where to go when he is on the ice. Get to the front of the net and be big. I believe that was his 5th point in 7 games here in North America. Trying to temper excitement for this kid, but its getting difficult to do so.
Leafs eventually drop the game by a score of 5-2. I hate losing to the Habs at anytime.
It was the FIRST game after the summer layoff. Do not read much into this at all. Lots will change, players will get better, and some cannot continue the pace of playing well at this level.
For those concerned about Timothy Liljegren. Stop.
Leafs are back in action Sunday vs the Ottawa Senators Rookie team.
Plenty of tickets should be available. If you are going, let me know. First (and only) beer is on you.
Travis Dermott did not play due to illness.
Eemeli Rasanen (ankle) and Keaton Middleton (noggin’) were injured during the game and did not return to action. No post game update on either was given.