The morning after the Toronto Maple Leafs lost Game 6 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens, Sheldon Keefe jumped out of bed – excited. “It’s an incredible opportunity for our team. I woke up this morning extremely excited for our group,” said Keefe, who admitted he went to bed in a different mood. “Last night, you feel like s&@t, because of what you’ve been through, you are right there in overtime, and you can end the series, and you don’t get it done. But you wake up this morning, and you think about the opportunity that our team has everything they have been through, especially our core guys, to have this opportunity on this stage to have this be the moment to push through it. It’s an incredible opportunity, and I’ve very excited for our team.”
You read that right. Keefe is thrilled to be in Game 7, despite failing twice to close out the series. Welcome to the wild world of sports psychology. The coach not only woke up excited, but he also went to the office and broke down every game of the series thus far. To use the horribly overused cliché, that’s playoff hockey. The coaches and the players have to get over the disappointment fast and get ready for the next game. But Toronto seems to be taking that a step further. In this video, Keefe explains why he believes this Game 7 was supposed to happen.
Clearly, Keefe’s feelings were expressed to the team, and his players have bought in. Morgan Rielly looks at playing in a Game 7 as a privilege. “I think you enjoy it. I think it’s a great challenge. It’s a great opportunity for us as a group to move forward,” said Rielly. Since 2013, Toronto has failed to close out a series seven times. Rielly has been part of the franchise during that entire stretch. Still, he welcomes the challenge, “I think it is an awesome experience to have an opportunity to play in these games. It’s a huge chance for guys to rise to the challenge and do something great for our team.”
Zach Hyman was also echoing his coach’s excitement, “it’s hard, playoffs are hard the other team doesn’t give up.” said Hyman. “Obviously, game five and six didn’t go our way, but what an opportunity we have on home ice against one of our biggest rivals to do something we haven’t done in a while. I think that the mindset is being excited, being ready to go… I think everybody should feel extremely excited about what is to come.”
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.