On Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs brought along around 30 dads, brothers, and father-in-laws for a highly-anticipated trip. This season, the Leafs, under second-year head coach Mike Babcock, have a “mandate” to create a more welcoming and supportive environment for their players.
“To have these dads along, I think this is how you treat people right,” Babcock said in an article by Chris Johnston of Sportsnet. “It gives you an opportunity to thank your dad for what he’s done.”
Former Capital Michael Nylander is back at Verizon Center to watch his son, William Nylander, play as part of the Leafs dad's trip pic.twitter.com/t4EBJ9ID7F
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) January 4, 2017
Brian Matthews, the father of first-overall pick Auston Matthews, certainly deserves to be thanked. Brian has been spending most of his time in Toronto to help his son absorb the shock of the bright-lights of Canadian hockey, occasionally ping-ponging around the United States for work and to take care the family home in Arizona. Still, Brian has been able to soak some of the glorious moments at the start of his 19-year-old son’s career, witnessing his historic four-goal NHL debut in Ottawa as well as his game-winning overtime goal (Matthews’s second of the game) in the outdoor Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day.
“Family is such a big part,” Matthews told Sportsnet of his development of as a hockey player and as a person. “They make such a big sacrifice and commitment.”
Matthews has leaned on his family and adjusted brilliantly to the National Hockey League, with 20 goals and 14 assists in 37 games.
Against the Capitals, Matthews had two assists, picking up a secondary assist on Connor Brown‘s goal-ahead tally in the first.
Connor Brown gives the Leafs a 2-1 lead pic.twitter.com/ViKQWr9pJ4
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) January 4, 2017
“We’ve proved we can skate with any team,” Brown, Matthews’s linemate said. “Playing with with No. 34 [Matthews] helps. Obviously he creates a lot out there. I feel as if our line is gelling and we have a lot of O-zone time which leads to points and offense.”
Matthews’s true skill was on display in the second period, when he made a surreal assist on a goal by Leo Komarov.
NHL 17 graphics have gotten good.
“You’re just trying to get the goalie to move to one side and and then put back on the other,” Matthews explained after the game. “[Komarov] was in really good position. Lucky to get it to him there. Stick on the ice and you put it in.”
After Komarov’s tally, however, the Leafs let in two straight Capitals goals in a wild third period. Mitch Marner was able to give Toronto the lead back with less than 10 minutes left in regulation. Washington, however, once again put two more tallies behind Leafs goaltender Frederik Anderson, who was not helped by a faltering defense.
“It’s very frustrating,” Matthews said of his team’s breakdowns. “It’s unacceptable.”
For the Leafs, their speed and skill is manifest. But so are their defensive lapses.
“I think that’s part of the learning experience and the process of a young team, but at the same time it’s definitely not the road we want to go down — it’s the opposite.” Matthews told reporters in a dejected Leafs locker room while some of players’ dads road stationary bikes in the hallway outside.
Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, for his part, highlighted the positives of his foes after the game, who picked up a point in the 6-5 overtime loss to Washington.
“They’re a very good team,” Trotz said of Toronto. “They’re very talented. They’re a quick-strike team. They can really skate.”
Headline photo: Patrick Smith
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