Oshawa - Sep. 11, 2011 - If the Ottawa-Pittsburgh game was the opening act, the Toronto-Chicago head-to-head matchup was the headliner! The GM Centre in Oshawa was a sea of blue and white and the Leaf-favourable crowd was chanting ‘Go Leafs Go’ throughout the game.
While the afternoon matchup between the Senators and the Penguins seemed to be more of a feeling out process between the two clubs, the Leafs and Blackhawks tilt on Saturday night felt like an old Norris Division playoff game. Both teams came out flying to start the game. The GM Centre was electrifying with nearly 3,500 Toronto faithful on hand to cheer on their team.
Both Toronto and Chicago iced very large and hard hitting players, the largest two being Jamie Devane at 6’5”, 220lbs and Simon Danis-Pepin at 6’7”, 208lbs respectively.
The aggressively played contest witnessed its first mismatch fight of the night at 7:43 of the opening frame. Blackhawks’ rookie and former Owen Sound Attack (OHL) feisty forward, Andrew Shaw (5’10”) squared off with Devane (6’5”) in a very spirited duel. For all of the talk and concern lately about headshots, concussions and brain injuries in the NHL, fans and players alike loved what these two enforcers had to offer. Devane made Shaw look like his own personal punching bag. The lopsided victory worked the crowd into a wild frenzy.
At 18:01 of period one, Devane scored Toronto’s first goal of the evening with a backhand riser towards the top shelf behind Chicago netminder, Mac Carruth. The ‘Go Leafs Go’ chants were in fine form only 19 seconds later and the crowd loved the high intensity and hard hitting that its hockey hero rookies were displaying in the opening frame.
Both teams went to their respective dressing rooms at the end of the first period with Toronto holding onto a 1 - 0 lead. Leafs’ players that caught this reporter’s attention in period one from a positive perspective included the speedy Kenny Ryan, brute Jamie Devane, slick stickhandler Sam Carrick, and goaltender Mark Owuya who looked confident and stood tall against any offense that was mounted by the Blackhawks. However, defensemen Jake Gardiner and Stuart Percy played an inconsistent and rocky first period.
The second period saw less intensity from both clubs and more sloppy play by some of Toronto’s defensive corps. Defenseman Matt Stanisz coughed up the puck on two different occasions, both times in his own zone, giving the Chicago Blackhawks good scoring opportunities.
At 9:14 of period two, Toronto switched its goaltender. Guelph Storm (OHL) goaltender Garret Sparks relieved Owuya of his duties. Two minutes later, Chicago scored its first goal on a nice passing play between Brandon Saad and Christopher Didomenico, with Didomenico netting the biscuit behind Sparks.
The second tilt of the night occurred at 15:12 of the second frame with Toronto’s Garrett Clarke and Chicago’s Rob Flick getting into a very spirited affair. Flick narrowly won this decision. After two periods of play, the game was all tied up 1 - 1.
One Leafs player of note in period two was defenseman Jesse Blacker. This kid seems to be the real deal. He is one tough son of a gun. He also seems to be the complete package-defence and offence combined.
Heading into the third and final frame, both teams found a way to score, with Toronto bulging the twine three more times to Chicago’s one, giving the Toronto Maple Leafs a decisive 4 - 2 victory in front of the Toronto faithful.
Being a loyal and strong Habs supporter for the past four decades, it was interesting to note that I was wowed by the intensity and determination displayed by many of Toronto’s rookie lineup. The game was entertaining and spirited, key qualities that made for an enjoyable matchup.
One notable Leafs’ player not dressed this evening was Jerry D’Amigo.
The three stars of the game were Chicago’s Didomenico (3rd star), Saad (2nd star) and Toronto’s own, Jake Gardiner with the game’s 1st star.
Thoughts from the Cheap Seats
2008 Anaheim Ducks 1st Rd Pick, Gardiner, a Real Gem
I will admit, I was none too impressed with Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner’s play in the first 30 minutes of Saturday evening’s game. He appeared to be tentative and fumbled the puck whenever he was given a chance to either carry or shoot the frozen piece of rubber.
Jake Gardiner, the former first round pick of Anaheim was described by many sports reporters ‘in the know’, as a key piece to the Francois Beauchemin trade last February. Gardiner was supposed to have strong offensive instincts and great acumen on the power play; however I observed none of the sort early on.
To my surprise, Gardiner’s play quickly improved as the game wore on. He became much more mobile on his feet and grew more confident every time he touched the puck. He always seemed to have his head up; always looking for an open man to pass to. He lead the Leafs on this night and had the fans cheering as they left the GM Centre.
With some seasoning, look to see Gardiner on Toronto’s blue line within two years. This kid is a keeper!
Maple Leafs next game…
Will be Sunday, September 11th at 7:00 p.m. versus the Pittsburgh Penguins at the GM Centre.
Until next time, play every game as if it is your last one…