Scott Sabourin finally got his chance to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was determined to make an impression. Mission accomplished. A few shifts into his first game wearing the blue and white, he added some red to his jersey. He not only challenged a league heavyweight to a fight, but he also faired okay and even drew blood from Milan Lucic.
For a guy who didn’t play in the NHL until he was 27, he’s known around the League. Lucic, who was playing in his 1000th game, knew he would celebrate the milestone with some haymakers. “It was funny when I saw he was in the lineup; you know I knew there was probably 100% chance that he was going to ask me to fight,” said Lucic.
Not only did he ask for it, Sabourin politely requested the duel, “well, I congratulated him on his 1,000 games and then the next question was, hey, do you want one? And he was nice enough to oblige. I figured it was good luck for both of us.” It made his debut with Toronto a memorable one. He only logged 4 minutes and 29 seconds. Yet, twice he had his teammates all standing and cheering for him, the first time after the skirmish, the second time when he came out of the penalty box and returned to the bench.
Career Minor League Player Gets a Chance
This was his 35 career NHL game. The professional minor-leaguer is obviously not a gifted scorer or crafty playmaker. He won’t surprise anyone with his speed or his stickhandling. But he is a hard worker who knows his role on the ice and throws his body into every play. Despite logging less than five minutes, he recorded three hits, and these weren’t the little taps that count as hits these days; these were board shakers that had the opponent looking for someone to complain to. “I felt good,” said Sabourin. “I thought we had a couple of good entries there, got in on the forecheck hard a few times.”
Sabourin’s first NHL goal came against Toronto last season. However, the most significant impression he made on Leaf Nation was the infamous slight by Auston Matthews. In a preseason game last season, Sabourin and Matthews started chirping. The video of Matthews trying to see Sabourin’s name on his back went viral. Matthews couldn’t believe how newsworthy the short clip became. “We were just messing around. He gave me a couple of cross-checks after the whistle. I mean, it was nothing. It’s all harmless,” explained Matthews the next day. “Obviously it kind of blew up…. I don’t know, it seems to be about clickbait for you guys.”
Hard Work Pays Off
Sabourin has produced more clickbait, as people will be watching his dance with Lucic. His coach may even be watching it again, “he was physical; he found a fight and held his own against as tough a customer as there is in the League. Definitely, we’re happy with what he did.” But it’s not just about him fighting. According to Keefe, Sabourin has been a dedicated part of the taxi squad, “he’s just worked extremely hard. Every day that he’s been around our group, whether it’s training camp or with the taxi squad or what have you, he’s done nothing but work extremely hard and be a good teammate around here.”
Keefe says he will be trying to give some veterans rest days leading up to the end of the season. This will provide players like Sabourin and others a chance to show what they’ve got and how they can contribute during the playoffs. As we all know, the playoffs can get physical, and Sabourin showed the Leafs that he can not only play that kind of game but also excel at it.
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.