It has been a year almost to the day when I first laid eyes on the true skill of Auston Matthews. Yes, I had heard of him, had seen some of his highlights and eagerly anticipated what this young American man might accomplish for my beloved, and snake bitten Toronto Maple Leafs. But then as a birthday gift to myself (aren’t those always the best) I took my kids out of school and we went to go see Team North America (the under 23 team) vs Sweden in the World Cup of Hockey.
Before the puck even dropped there was a sense of something special about to happen, an event that we could later say we were there to witness live. Seeing him alongside McDavid and fellow Maple Leaf Morgan Rielly put us on the edge of our seats as the puck dropped and the game began. It didn’t take long for us to be jumping out of them.
The start of the Toronto season came soon after and it was a season that fans haven’t seen in quite some time. There was excitement, positivity and no one will ever forget that opening game with the Ottawa Senators as Matthews scored four goals. It continued throughout as the Rookie of the Year winner ended with 40 goals and the Maple Leafs gave the Washington Capitals everything they had. Yes they lost in 6 games but the Capitals knew it was a battle as 5 of them went decided in overtime.
As we embark on this season there may be a bit more fear than excitement. First and foremost, Toronto fans had zero expectations last year. Today, the story is a little different. This year the Leafs are “expected” to make the playoffs and if they don’t, many will be disappointed. Last year the team went through the season quite healthy and lost very few games to injury to their core players. Knock on wood that they all remain healthy but missing key people could certainly put a damper on things as the Blue Jays understand. Last year many teams didn’t take this young Leaf team too seriously as every night a third of their lineup was played by rookies. It would have been very human of opponents to take them lightly. The same thing won’t happen this time. Everyone knows how well they can play and everyone will be better prepared.
There is also the fear of the sophomore jinx. Players for the most part, tend to drop a little in performance as they go through the rigours of their second year. With so many rookies last year, it will be quite the interesting tale to see not only if, but how many might fall into that slump. To play well at any level requires confidence and if one stumbles out of the gates, it might be difficult to get back on track.
So yes, there are plenty of fears circulating about and not uncommon to be apprehensive. Well, that may have been the case 24 hours ago, but it doesn’t exist anymore. As mentioned, it was about a year ago when Matthews razzled and dazzled his way into my heart and sure enough, he did it again in a preseason game against one of our most hated rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.
Similar to last year he quickly impacted the game. This time it took him 47 seconds to open the scoring. It was a deflected snap shot from just inside the blue line that completely befuddled Habs goalie Al Montoya as he didn’t even move. In true Mathews fashion, he didn’t stop there. The second came after some wizardry with the stick and then tipping in a floating puck. His last goal of the night came on the breakaway going five hole. Apparently the hat trick wasn’t enough as Matthews also had an assist on the night.
I fully understand one preseason game doesn’t really matter, but it does tell us one thing. The Toronto Maple Leafs are once again going to be very entertaining this year and Mr. Matthews (do we have a nickname for him yet or are we just going to call him Papi like his mom does) is going to be the star of the show.
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