Wednesday, 10 January 2018

TBC: Young Leafs

I have torn to admit that I was torn when I received today's entry in Teebz's Book Club. I love reading, and I try to squeeze a little in every day. I admittedly don't go searching for articles on the Toronto Maple Leafs, though, so I wasn't sure I wanted to wade into the pages of this book. However, I did crack the spine over the holidays, and Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Young Leafs: The Making of a New Hockey History, written by Gare Joyce and published by Simon & Schuster Canada. Thanks to TSN and Sportsnet, I thought I knew more about the Leafs, Auston Matthews, and their young guns than I'd ever care to, but Mr. Joyce does an outstanding job in this book in giving better perspective about their players than either of the television networks have.

From his Simon & Schuster page, "Gare Joyce has written about sports for over thirty years, winning four National Magazine Awards and landing on The Best American Sports Writing notable list seven times. Joyce is the author of eleven books, including Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm and The Devil and Bobby Hull. He is a senior writer with Sportsnet and was previously a hockey columnist for The Globe and Mail and a staff feature writer for ESPN The Magazine and Joyce lives in Toronto, seven subway stops from the Air Canada Centre."

I am a fan of Mr. Joyce's long-form writing for Sportsnet and other outlets, and his books have always been entertaining in both the topics he has chosen to write about and his writing style. He is a master of prose, often using excellent descriptors in his sentences and paragraphs that give you a deeper understanding of the topic. In knowing this, I felt like Young Leafs could be a good and entertaining read despite it being on a topic that I feel has been told over and over about the infusion of youth on the Leafs roster.

Knowing that this book was going to focus on the young Leafs players, I went into reading this book with an open mind. I was surprised to read about a number of things concerning players such as Matthews, Marner, and Nylander that had yet to be reported anywhere else. Granted, I wasn't actively seeking this knowledge, but the depth and great detail that Mr. Joyce put into illustrating the passion each of these players had in getting to the NHL and, ultimately, playing in the NHL really shines through in Young Leafs.

Joyce looks at the struggles and successes of each player in their first year of NHL play, but he also goes back in time to tell the stories of each player in their development, their path to the NHL, and some of the people who helped them take the necessary steps in following their dreams. Parents, former coaches, billets, and a number of other people all contributed stories about the future NHL stars, and Mr. Joyce really proves in Young Leafs that it takes a community to raise an NHL player.

One of the more interesting sections in Young Leafs was about Mitch Marner nearly walking away from the game while with the OHL's London Knights. After being a standout in his rookie season with the Knights, Marner's game suddenly disappeared in his draft year, and was highlighted by a 6-2 loss to Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters where Marner walked away from the team for a few days after he felt he was an "embarrassment". All it took was a session with one of the people who had helped Marner become a potential NHL draft pick for him to rediscover his game.
After three days, Marner told his parents that he wanted to get on the ice and skate with Desveaux. They made a call and set up a time. Desveaux was well aware of Mitch's slump, and the temptation might have been a kid-glove treatment, to tread delicately or go slow. Instead, Desveaux decided to be direct and break down the elements of the game that he had drilled into Mitch. Since the start of the Knights' training camp, a matter of two months, Mitch had fallen into a bunch of bad habits. They were plain to Desveaux in just a matter of minutes. He was shooting off the wrong foot. He wasn't prepared for passes because his stick was off the ice. Even the most basic elements of his skating were off - he was standing too high in his stride, his crossovers were a tangle. Marner had been keenly aware of all the things he was trained to do when just in grade school, and it wasn't simply a matter of repetition on the ice - his father had videoed almost every one of Mitch's workouts with Desveaux and they had watched them together, breaking down his performance in the drills. It was like a man of the cloth had somehow forgotten the Ten Commandments, all ten at once. "Mitch was relieved that there was something technical that we could point to and that it wasn't just one thing," Desveaux says. "He had been pretty down about how things were going. It was good just to get him smiling again.
If nothing else, this passage goes to show that even players at the top of their games get into bad habits on the ice, and it occasionally takes an outside view to correct those bad habits/ If younger hockey players read this book, this one passage should be proof that despite practicing the same drills a million times in their careers, there's a purpose in continuing to do the same drills when it comes to ensuring success.

The players that Mr. Joyce reviews in Young Leafs obviously focus on Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, but there are examinations of Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, and Nikita Zaitsev as the Leafs' young core begins to take flight. Mr. Joyce highlights key sections of the schedule where the Leafs' young players faced adversity, found successes, and worked through some issues. He goes through the playoff series versus the Washington Capitals where the young Maple Leafs put a jolt of fear through the highly-touted Capitals before finally being dispatched by Washington. There were lessons learned there as well, and Mr. Joyce does an excellent job in capturing the atmosphere around the Leafs' young guns.

Overall, if you're a fan of the Maple Leafs, Young Leafs is a book that should be in your collection. Mr. Joyce does an outstanding job in looking at the youth movement happening around the Leafs and how these players will be the key to future success. Mr. Joyce doesn't sugar-coat any of the situations nor does he use hyperbole in talking about the Leafs and their kids in Young Leafs. He does, however, give the reader an honest assessment and a candid look at the first year of a number of young Leafs players, and it allowed me to enjoy this book more than my initial judgment would have had me believe. Because of this, Young Leafs absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

You can find Young Leafs: The Making of a New Hockey History at all major bookstores and libraries today!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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