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Cornered Coach: Being a Frontrunner Can Be Fun


Everyone loves a winner.

And nowhere is that more true than the big city of Toronto.

The mighty Maple Leafs are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, (I don't count the lockout year of 2013 because, in my books, a half season of hockey just doesn't cut it) and the entire city is about to go bonkers. With that said, the Leafs are up against the powerful Washington Capitals in the opening round of the Stanley Cup tournament, so it could be a short ride. But after years of wandering around blindly in the hockey wilderness, Leafs Nation is thrilled to just be part of the play-off party once again.

The Leafs, of course, haven't won the Cup since way back in 1967. But, believe it or not, Toronto has been witness to a few exciting playoff runs over the last fifty years. 

How about Lanny McDonald's huge game seven overtime goal in 1978 to knock off the favoured New York Islanders?

For Leafs fans it was definitely one of those special "Where were you?" moments, and I know exactly where I was; a 15-year-old midget-aged goalie who was attending the end-of-season minor hockey banquet in our small prairie town. Keeping one eye on the guest speaker, and the other eye on the television in the corner, the whole room exploded when Lanny pulled off his hero routine.

In the early-90's, it was Doug Gilmour's turn to assume the hero's role. "The Killer" led the Leafs to back-to-back memorable runs to the conference finals and, even though they fell short in their bid to reach the Cup final, Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Pat Burns will forever be lionized when it comes to magical moments in Maple Leafs history.

Later, the Pat Quinn-coached Leafs that included stars such as Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts and Curtis Joseph supplied some great postseason moments of their own. Once again, however, their efforts to snap the Leafs lengthy championship drought ultimately came up empty.

Now, there's a new batch of Buds that are beginning to capture the imagination of Toronto fans. After a marvellous forty-goal season, Auston Matthews is the leading candidate to win this year's NHL rookie of the year award and, at the tender age of 19, he has already become the fresh new face of the franchise.

More importantly, he's inspiring a new generation of fans to pick up their sticks and get involved in the game.

In a previous blog, I mentioned that my 11-year-old son, Max, had quit hockey this season to give basketball a try. It turns out Max has a deep passion for hoops but, as I wrote in that same blog, he also discovered he missed chasing after pucks and is planning to return to the ice next season.

But give a huge assist to Matthews.

A lot of kids love basketball because of the high scoring in the game. Heck, DeMar DeRozan can have a rotten night for the Raptors and still put up 20 points. In hockey, it's a lot tougher to light up the scoreboard. But when Matthews went off for four goals in his very first NHL game back in October, Max was immediately hooked. We had to rush out and buy him an Auston Matthews jersey, and with big number 34 plastered on the back, Max has spent more time than ever lacing up his skates to play shinny or firing a tennis ball around the basement. 

Is he a frontrunner?

You bet.

But if Auston Matthews and the rest of the Leafs can provide the modern generation with a few of the same kind of thrills that Lanny, Dougie and Mats provided fans in the past, everyone will be a winner – even if that irritating Stanley Cup drought goes on for a little while longer. 

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