In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll report that the 2022 Heritage Classic has indeed been scheduled and is on the horizon. Second, I’ll talk about how Mitch Marner is trying to deal with the group of so-called fans who are actively engaging in making mean-spirited comments about him.
Third, I’ll report about the Maple Leafs’ prospect game in Traverse City, Michigan. Although the prospects lost that first game, several showed well during the game and have been playing well during the development camp. Finally, I’ll look at some of the players that I’m really interested in watching as preparations for the 2021-22 regular season will soon begin in earnest.
Item One: The 2022 Heritage Classic is Happening
Yesterday, the NHL confirmed that the Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres would play outside in the 2022 Heritage Classic. The game is scheduled for March 13, 2022, and will be played at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton as an afternoon game.
The NHL’s Commissioner Gary Bettman announced, “We are excited to announce that we will be presenting another Tim Hortons Heritage Classic this season. When the Toronto Maple Leafs meet the Buffalo Sabres at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, we again will honor Canada’s preeminent role in the history of our game while renewing a great and long-standing NHL rivalry. In addition, by inviting the first U.S.-based team to a Heritage Classic, we will celebrate the greater Golden Horseshoe region as the home of so many fans of both the Leafs and Sabres.”
Related: Was Lou Lamoriello as Good as Toronto Maple Leafs Fans Remember?
Good for Bettman (or someone in his NHL staff) who provided the information about the Hamilton area.
Item Two: Mitch Marner Trying to Block Out “Haters”
Two days ago, I co-wrote a post about Mitch Marner’s relationship with Maple Leafs’ fans titled “Mitch Marner Running Out of Leash with Maple Leaf Fans.” Wow, the post generated a lot of vitriol. As I read the comments, there just seemed to be no way into the conversation in an edifying way. It was the first time in a long time that I simply chose not to engage in much conversation with readers.
So, when I read an article like Sportsnet’s Luke Fox wrote earlier today about Marner trying to block out the haters, I’m not surprised. In the article, Marner noted that Jumbo Joe Thornton helped him a lot with trying to keep on an even-keel on his mental state. As Fox noted, Marner isn’t trying to fight the emotions of the season – which he admits he has – but to “ride them” instead.
Marner says he’s learning to block out the “haters,” which I’m learning exist. To do so, he’s leaning on his friends, family, and teammates. In fact, it’s no surprise he’s growing closer to his teammate Auston Matthews. As the doubters grow in number, the two young stars – Matthews and Marner – have started to regularly check in with each other and counsel each other.
The two began to call each other regularly during the off-season to talk both about hockey (as their craft) and their own personal lives. They share stories about vacations as much as they share looking at offensive-zone clips. They also give each other constructive criticism and work together to analyze situations where they might bail each other out – both on the ice and in their personal lives.
Related: NHL Rumors: Maple Leafs, Wild, Penguins, Capitals, Avs, More
As Marner noted, “Just making sure the other guy knows that we’re there for each other.”
Both are feeling the pressure of playing in Toronto. In fact, both are adopting the same language to describe the situation with their fans. In fact, from a discourse analysis (in this case where the language a person uses to describe events in life is studied), one can see that both Matthews and Marner have adopted the same language to describe their feelings.
As Marner noted, “I’m not really focusing on it. It’s outside noise. Nothing you can do about it.” Both call what the fans are saying “outside noise.” You don’t have to have a PhD to deconstruct the meanings embedded in that metaphor.
And, Marner noted, “I know what comes with this. I’ve always known what comes with this. I always wanted to be here, and I’ve said that since Day One.” He wants to be in Toronto. So he says now.
Like him or not, give Marner credit for his community engagement. Just this weekend he’s having his All-Star Invitational, which is an annual interactive fund-raiser for youth. His charity dinner for that fund-raiser was last night.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Muzzin, Abramov, Ritchie & Prospects
And, as Marner told reporters at the dinner: “The past is the past. There’s nothing we can do now. Everyone has come in ready to go … It’s exciting times.” Here’s hoping Marner stays excited.
Item Three: Prospect’s Game
Yesterday the Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospects beat the Maple Leafs prospects 4-3 in overtime in the first game from the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. The Maple Leafs’ prospects went ahead by two goals, but the Blue Jackets’ prospects came back to win in overtime.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Auston Matthews
Scoring for the Maple Leafs’ prospects were Alex Steeves, who continued his strong camp; Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, who did not have a particularly strong camp so it’s good to see him score; and, Matt Hellickson, who’s a young defenseman who was a draft choice of the New Jersey Devils but who never signed with them. Hellickson and Steeves played together at Notre Dame. In fact, I’m researching a Hellickson piece right now for a post sometime soon.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’m the eternal optimist I suppose, but I’m starting to really look forward to training camp and the regular season. Some of the players I’m really interested in are Nick Robertson, who’s ready to play in the NHL but probably won’t; Steeves, who looks like a player; and, Der-Arguchintsev, who garnered my interest since he played with the Peterborough Petes with Robertson.
I’ve also been interested in watching Hayley Wickenheiser work. So far, and this development camp is the first time I’ve really seen her front-and-center, she carries herself like a star. I find her a really interesting leader. Even better, she’s respected by the young players.