Home sport Maple Leafs players with Toronto-area roots embrace playoff pressure

Maple Leafs players with Toronto-area roots embrace playoff pressure

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Or the Stanley Cup playoffs at 19.

Because for the Maple Leaf Ten who were born and raised in Southern Ontario, it’s in their DNA.

“When you grew up watching this team like I did watching Doug Gilmores and Wendell Clarks, you understand the passion,” Mark Giordano He said. Here. Positive or negative, you can’t escape from it. »

[RELATED: Complete Maple Leafs vs Lightning series coverage]

For these players, there is no way to block white noise. Not when it comes from family, friends and neighbors. There are constant reminders. Either you hug him or something else.

On Tuesday, Toronto will open its Eastern Conference first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning at home (7:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, BSSUN) in a bid to advance to the playoffs for the first time in a year. 2004. The Maple Leafs will be looking to redeem themselves after being eliminated in seven games by the Lightning last season – marking the sixth consecutive season Toronto lost in the first round – and they will do so with a team that does. It does not lack local flavor.

Giordano was born before Michael Bunting And Wayne Simmonds They come from Scarborough, an eastern suburb of Toronto. straight ahead Michael Marner He grew up north of Markham. center John Tavares He was born in Mississauga, west of Toronto. straight ahead Ryan O’Reilly He is from Clinton, near London. cannon TJ Brody From Chatham, the birthplace of Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ferguson Jenkins, located midway between London and Windsor. Defenseman Connor Timmons is based in St. Catharines, about 60 miles south of Toronto near the US border.

Two more residents of the wounded reserve: a machine gunner Jake Muzin, who grew up 65 miles southeast of Toronto in Woodstock; and cannons Victor MittyFrom Woodbridge, North Toronto.

For these players, the question is simple: Is growth in the region adding more pressure or is it stimulating supply? Especially when they all know what ultimate success means here.

“It depends on how you see it,” Giordano said. “The way I see it is that you dream of growing up in your hometown to get past the playoffs and win the cup on home soil. I mean, there’s no better story. So this is a great opportunity for all of us.”

Wahid, 39, said his team should take advantage.

“I mean, look at our team,” he said. “They’ve been one of the best teams in the league over the last few years. Now it comes down to playoff success. And yeah, there’s pressure. No one’s going to fool you and say there’s no pressure on us and we just have to play, there’s for sure, but, like I said, you have to use it.” to drive yourself.

“You don’t want to look too far ahead. But if you look at the end of the tunnel and see what the possibility is, I mean, it’s very special.”

Marner couldn’t agree more.

The 25-year-old grew up soaking up all the information about the history of the Maple Leafs, so much so that he wore No. 93 in the Ontario Hockey League’s Junior and London Hockey League in honor of former Maple Leafs forward Doug Gilmour. Remember, Marner wasn’t even born when Gilmore helped Toronto reach the Conference Finals in 1993 and 1994.

For a scratch, fans have often made him a scapegoat for recent playoff shortcomings in Toronto. He averaged 1.09 points per game in the regular season over his 507-game NHL career, but averaged 0.85 points per game in 39 post-season games, and is a legitimate source of criticism. At the same time, this was not the main reason for the failure of the Maple Leafs in recent years.

However, like Giordano, he continues to focus on the big picture and imagine what the Stanley Cup will mean to the team, the city and all of Southern Ontario, for that matter.

“I think a lot of us here would have said that wearing this jersey is a dream come true for a lot of us,” said Marner. “It’s easy to think that way. At the same time, our mentality here is to stay in the moment, and try not to look too far ahead.”

Easier said than done. Just ask O’Reilly, who was traded to Toronto by the St. Louis Blues along with the forward Noel Akari As part of a three-team deal that included the Minnesota Wild on February 17.

The 32-year-old helped the Blues win the trophy in 2019 and bring the holy grail of hockey to southwestern Ontario, where he celebrated with family and childhood friends. But it didn’t take long for him to understand the emotional environment he’s in now and how many people he’s known for years live and die with every turn of the Maple Leafs.

To that end, one of the first things O’Reilly did after he was traded was to text his father, Brian.

“What if I helped bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto? The son-to-father text said,” Can you imagine? »

Two months later, he’s still trying to figure out the idea.

“I think it’s definitely the pressure,” he said. “But it also pushes you because it is special. You involve more people and that means more to people.”

“Just talking to my dad, my dad, they’re all over the place. Everyone’s talking, everyone’s asking if they can come over and get the scoop.”

O’Reilly’s mother Bonnie grew up in a family of 14 in Toronto and worked at a snack bar for Toronto games at Maple Leaf Gardens.

“It’s something very private,” he said, “well, it’s hard to explain to men. But it’s different.” It means more. »

“It’s good at this point in my career to try. I think if I were younger it would be tough to handle. But to be with this team now and see the enthusiasm of the people around it and be part of a team that they’ve loved since birth, well, to represent them and the region is something Wonderful.”Very pleasant.”

For Tavares and O’Reilly, it’s all about the end game: the Stanley Cup.

“I think you understand what makes Toronto so special, the importance and the traditions,” said Tavares, 32, the Maple Leafs captain. “It’s great to be a part of it.

“That’s why you know winning here will be amazing.”

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