It is often said at funerals not to necessarily mourn or grieve the loss of someone, but rather to celebrate the life they lived and to remember the good memories. Well, the 2013-2014 Toronto Maple Leafs are officially dead. And while many have already begun writing about what is wrong with the team and where things went wrong and how embarrassed they are, I am choosing not to grieve the Leafs (not yet anyways) but rather to celebrate the good times they had. Because as easy as it is to forget it, there were a lot of great moments this season. What follows is, in chronological order, what I think were some of the highlights of the season:
Sunday September 22nd, 2013 - The Brawl
It's pretty rare for one of the fondest memories of a team's season to include the preseason, but such was the case this year when the Sabres and Leafs met up in late September. After a fight between Leafs prospect Jamie Devane and the much smaller Corey Tropp of Buffalo, tensions boiled over. John Scott went after Phil Kessel, Phil Kessel went back after him, David Clarkson jumped off the bench earning himself a 10 game suspension, and best of all Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier dropped the gloves in a rare tilt between netminders. I'm not even a big fan of fighting in hockey, but the madness that was this sequence was total entertainment.
Saturday October 12th, 2013 - Dave Bolland OT Goal
Dave Bolland has taken a lot of heat since coming from back injury, but he started the season red hot. In a wild 6-5 game on home ice against Dallas Eakins and the Edmonton Oilers, Bolland's game-winner on a 3-on-1 highlights his early-season heroics. Personally this is one of my favorite moments in the Leafs season and in my opinion the most entertaining game they played this year.
Thursday October 17th, 2013 - Josh Leivo's First NHL Goal
Called up early in the year due to team injury, suspension, and cap constraint, youngster Josh Leivo gave Leafs fans a small glimpse of what he could be capable of at the NHL level as he grows as a player. The Leafs ended up losing this game (remember that long softie on Benier?), but who doesn't love seeing a kid, especially in this fashion, score his first NHL goal?
Saturday December 14th, 2013 - Leafs Rout Blackhawks, D'Amigo Scores
Coming off a three-game losing streak, the Leafs surprised a lot of people when they beat up on the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 7-3 on Hockey Night In Canada. Big wins like this are always fun, especially when they are as unexpected as this. The game was highlighted by prospect Jerry D'Amigo's first NHL goal in the second period. Again, who doesn't love a guy scoring his first NHL goal?
December 14th, 2013 - January 4th, 2014: HBO 24/7
It's fair to say that the Leafs appearance on the acclaimed 24/7 series by HBO was one of the most anticipated parts of the Leafs' season, and it didn't disappoint. While the Detroit Red Wings re-affirmed their position as the NHL's most boring team, the Leafs segments on the show were (mostly) full of personality and comedy. Below are a couple of my favorite moments from the series.
Monday December 16th, 2013 - Morgan Rielly's First NHL Goal
Highly touted Leafs prospect. 2+ months into his NHL career without a goal. Then he goes end-to-end to finally get his first. Also, seriously, who the hell doesn't love seeing a guy score their first NHL goal?
Wednesday January 1st, 2014 - The Winter Classic
Nearly two years in the making, the Leafs finally met up with Original Six rival Detroit at The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan for a game to be remembered for lots of snow, lots and lots of people, a trade, and most importantly a big Leafs win. Capped of course by none other than one of the most hated men on the Leafs, Tyler Bozak.
January 12th, 2014 - January 21st, 2014: The Winning Streak
It started with a shootout win against New Jersey and ended with a blowout loss to Dallas. But the Leafs longest winning streak since 2007 can perhaps best be remembered for memorable wins on the road against Boston (a game many saw as a mini-redemption for last year's game 7 collapse) and at home to Montreal. Here is James van Riemsdyk during the streak trolling Montreal's P.K. Subban:
Saturday February 1st, 2014 - Kessel Hat-Trick
It was the closest thing to a playoff game the Leafs had in the regular season. And in hind sight, it was the closest thing to a playoff game the Leafs had in general this season. But the atmosphere was electric, the energy was high, and the hockey was excellent, and a dominant performance from Phil Kessel surged the Leafs to victory against their struggling Ontario subordinates.
March 10th, 2014 - March 13th, 2014 - The Leafs Conquer Death Valley
Did you know Greg Millen likes to call California "Death Valley"? Of course you did, he only repeats it three times a game. Anyways, with some huge points on the line, most people figured if the Leafs could even manage to go .500 against Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles that they would be poised to come back home and take firm control of a playoff spot. We know now that didn't happen, but leaving California with two wins and one loss was still very satisfying. Perhaps the best moment of this Western road swing was the game in L.A., where Jonathan Bernier went down to injury and the almost forgotten James Reimer stepped in to really carry the team to victory. Reimer will likely be gone after this summer, but the guy was a flat-out hero during his time in Toronto. It was fitting that, along with his relief performance against the Bruins in early April, Reimer was able to give Leafs fans a final farewell.
Thursday April 3rd, 2014 - One Last Win
Most people probably accepted that the Leafs would be missing the playoffs well in advance of the Leafs game against the Bruins on April 3rd. But statistically it wasn't over, and for those who still believed or at least wanted to believe it was nice to see the Leafs beat the rival Bruins on home ice in what would ultimately end up being the Leafs last win of the season. Reimer came in to give another strong relief performance, the much-maligned David Clarkson scored an important (and beautiful) goal, and Nazem Kadri capped it all off with the OT winner. Enjoy:
Saturday April 12th, 2014 - The End
As the Leafs played their final game of the season there wasn't too much to get excited about. Petter Granberg did make his NHL debut and looked solid. Also, for those aboard tank nation, a Leafs regulation loss would secure (barring the draft lottery) the 8th overall pick. And it was of course what is likely James Reimer's last appearance in a Leafs jersey. For these reasons, it was actually a pretty nice way to end the year. It was close, but the Leafs did lose in regulation. Not something you would usually cheer about it but in this particular case it was something worth celebrating. Most importantly though was how James Reimer shined. As I mentioned already, Reimer really was a hero for the Leafs in his time here. He was really the guy who stabilized a position that had been anything but before his arrival. He made many highlight reel saves, carried the team to it's first and only playoff appearance since 2004, and he was a great guy too. It was tough not to get a bit emotional watching Reimer stand on his head one last time, even if the game didn't really mean anything. As the clock winded down I found myself repeatedly reflecting on all the good times Reimer had in a Leafs jersey, and it was sad looking at him in that crease knowing it would probably be the last we ever saw of him wearing the blue and white again. So on behalf of Leafs nation, thanks for everything James. Hope you come home one day.