The Toronto Maple Leafs’ captain joined his teammates at the practice facility on Wednesday. An incredible feat, when you consider just six days earlier, John Tavares was on a stretcher, being loaded into the back of an ambulance and transported to the hospital. He had taken a knee directly to the face after falling to the ice. He was left concussed and bloodied. Players from both Toronto and the Montreal Canadiens said they felt sick to their stomach as they watched emergency officials assist the 30-year-old. Tavares underwent several tests that showed his head, neck and spine were uninjured. He remained in the hospital overnight for observation.
“John is in the facility here today,” said Sheldon Keefe when asked about his captain’s recovery. “(He’s) reacclimating himself to the group and getting back going so, a lot of really positive things there, both in his recovery and you know having him around out-group.”
Tavares Has Been Absent But Not Disconnected
However, he’s been in continuous contact with his team. It started just hours after he was taken off the ice. He sent a group text to all Maple Leafs’ players, letting them know he was okay. “John helped put everybody at ease. First of all, that he was feeling well enough to communicate, and secondly taking the initiative to do so. Knowing that it was a concerning situation and the players care for him greatly for him to reach out and communicate, reassured the guys he is doing well.”
According to William Nylander, the text messages haven’t stopped. “We get text messages from him before every game, reminding us of what we need to do out there and what our mindset needs to be like,” said Nylander. As seen on the Leafs Blueprint, Tavares has been in the locker room virtually, “he has been a huge support, and obviously, he’s been on Facetime after the wins in the locker room. He’s there every moment.”
Keefe said the Facetime locker room visits have lifted the team, “having him in our post-game gathering after a win is nice as well good to see.” But Keefe doesn’t seem surprised Tavares has been in contact with his teammates regularly. “He is the captain of our group,” said Keefe, “so for him to still be showing those leadership qualities that he has this time of year is really important.”
Leader, On and Off the Ice
It wasn’t long ago that there were questions about Toronto naming Tavares as the 25th captain in franchise history. Many media outlets were lobbying for Auston Matthews in the weeks leading up to the announcement. Then Tavares’s leadership abilities were questioned after a lacklustre play-in series. Toronto filled the team with guys who had worn a letter in their NHL careers in the offseason. In fact, 12 players on the roster have been captain or alternative captain. Again, raising questions around the leadership that was already on the team.
All of those concerns can now be put to rest. Comments by Maple Leafs and players around the league prove he is worthy of the “C” and Toronto was correct in naming him the leader. He is respected and even admired as a competitor and leader.
In his absence, and as cliché as it sounds, every player has picked up their game. Every Maple Leaf that has been on a media conference call has talked about winning for John. He became a rallying point for Toronto and the fanbase. Hashtags like #WinforJT and others sending well wishes to Tavares have been trending nearly every day since the injury. Tavares is indeed the captain of this team on and off the ice.
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.