2016-2017


Loss at hockey worlds still stings for Maple Leafs' Marner
22 2017 . MIKE ZEISBERGER, POSTMEDIA NETWORK

TORONTO Wearing a white T-shirt, his Blue Jays baseball cap perched backwards on his head, a fatigued Mitch Marner looked like a 15-year-old teen as he walked through the arrival gate at Torontos Pearson Airport on Monday evening.

Dont let appearances fool you though. To the naked eye, he might still look like a boy. But he plays like a man, as his teammates and opponents at the recently completed world hockey championship can attest.

Just 24 hours earlier, the young Maple Leafs forward and his Canada teammates suffered a gut wrenching 2-1 loss to Sweden in a shootout, a ridiculous format when it comes to deciding the gold medal winner at the world championship. Now, after an eight-plus hour flight home from Germany, the pain still resided in his gut. And rightly so.

It just sucked how it ended, Marner told Postmedia, the disappointment still etched on his face.

But the (event) was a pretty special experience. It was great to meet all those guys. We came together pretty quickly.

The two-plus week tournament was a whirlwind ride for Marner. He turned 20 on May 5, the first day of the event. He lost part of a chicklet during one of the games, leaving a gap between his teeth. And he was Canadas final hope in the shootout Sunday, his attempt subsequently thwarted by Henrik Lundqvist.

Think about the pressure. Standing at centre ice, knowing you are your countrys last chance. And, of course, at that very moment, the eyes of two nations are on you.

Twelve months ago, this kid was winning a Memorial Cup with the London Knights. All the while, questions loomed over him: Would he be a Knight or a Toronto Maple Leaf in 2016-17?

We know the answer now: hes one of the Leafs top forwards and a world championship silver medallist for Canada. What a difference a year makes.

Asked about being in the global spotlight as he waited to take his shootout attempt, Marner replied: Its a pretty big rush. Obviously you know what you have to do to keep it going. You try to see something, you try to go for it, things happen.

Its been an (eventful) year. Obviously, I didnt know what was going to happen between Toronto and London. And then getting the opportunity to make the team. And then obviously playoffs and world championships, its been a pretty big thrill. Now its nice that I have no camps that I have to go to. I can relax and concentrate on getting my body ready for this season and really dial it in.

In the aftermath of Swedens dramatic victory, Marner congratulated Leafs teammate William Nylander, a member of the victorious Tre Kroners, in the handshake line. This in itself was a snapshot of the promising times that potentially lie ahead for the Maple Leafs. On this world stage, Nylander was voted tournament MVP while Marner was named one of Canadas three top players.

Marner is 20. He looks 15. He finished seventh in tournament scoring with 12 points. Nylander is 21. He looks 18. He finished third in tourney scoring with 15 points. In the process, they once again showed through their play that, for the Leafs, the future very well may be now.

Its definitely pretty cool, Marner said. (Nylander) had a great tournament and really helped that team along. Its a special thing to be part of. Its a lot of fun. Hopefully next year we dont have the opportunity to go because well still be playing (in the playoffs). But its something youll never forget.

SHOOTOUT SILLINESS

Enough already. This isnt soccer. Let the players determine the outcome of a championship via a golden goal, not a penalty shot sideshow.

Its understandable for logistical reasons if organizers want to use such a format leading up to the title game. But when it comes to a one-game showdown to determine whos best, lets crown a team because it won at hockey, not a practice drill.

Besides, its not like the teams have to catch a flight. Its the final game. Treat it as such.

YOUNG GUNS 2.0

Remember the electrifying World Cup of Hockey performance turned in eight months ago by the Young Guns aka Team North America? It was a glimpse into where the sport was headed, a new generation of speed and skill. Now, for the past three weeks, we were once again reminded of that thanks to a cache of talent 25 and under that included the likes of Marner, Nylander, Nathan MacKinnon, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Gabriel Landeskog, Nik Ehlers, Sebastian Aho, Leon Draisaitl, Mark Scheifele, Brayden Point, Travis Konecny, Colton Parayko, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Evgeny Kuznetsov, just to name a few. Need we say more?

PS: If you needed any more proof why Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic says MacKinnon is untouchable, this tournament served as such. The kids skill set is ridiculous. He came within a fraction of going end-to-end in overtime to score what would have been a goal for the ages.

CROSS CHECKS

There have been more talented Canadian teams and certainly more experienced ones so it says a lot about the job coach Jon Cooper did in getting his young players to buy what he was selling. This Canadian team did not lose a game in regulation. Nor did it make any excuses in losing in a silly shootout. It says here that Cooper deserves a long look for future Team Canada coaching opportunities, although much of that depends on incumbent Mike Babcock After watching the on- and off-ice leadership displayed by Ryan OReilly, incoming Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill must be thrilled at having such a solid building block For those who consider this to be a secondary event in hockey: the tears trickling down the cheeks Lundqvist at winning the title for Sweden suggests otherwise.
 
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