Leaf notes: World juniors splits the room, deja vu for coach Martin

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When the Leaf dressing room opened Wednesday morning, players and staff were glued to the big screen showing the world junior hockey championships in Sweden.

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American winger Matthew Knies was asked if he was rooting for Canada and rookie Leaf teammates Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan.

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“No chance,” he quickly quipped. “I’ll cheer for them, but I can’t for Team Canada. They won it the year I went (2022). That left a bad taste in my mouth.

“I’m happy for (Minten and Cowan) and for Mints to be named captain and want them to do well, but not beat the U.S.  I watched the Americans last night obviously and some old teammates I have there. It’s a fun time of year.”

Winger Max Domi reminisced about winning gold with Team Canada in Toronto in 2015 against Russia – in the same dressing room he now resides.

“I told Calle Jarnkrok (the Swede now sits where Domi did as a medalist) and he didn’t like it,” Max laughed. “That was a pretty epic game for us, one of my fondest hockey memories. It’s great to win gold, but to do it your backyard was special.”

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At age 71, Jacques Martin never expected to be coaching the Ottawa Senators again and being back in Toronto and thus was totally fine discussing what must be a painful memory, four playoff losses to the late Pat Quinn in the early 2000s.

“As you move along, mature, have other opportunities, you learn from those Battles of Ontario,” he said. “I feel I let the organization down at that time. I really liked our club, but I feel today I’d be in a better position to help our players.”

The Sens had Zdeno Chara, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Alexei Yashin and Radek Bonk among others, but faced Quinn’s well-balanced Toronto team that had better goaltending. Martin and Quinn became great comrades off the ice, helping various versions of Team Canada at the Olympics and World Cup.

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“I had tremendous respect for Pat. He’d played the game, was a general manager, a coach and always had teams that played the right way.”


Martin recalled at times butting heads with Spezza, who ended his playing career in Toronto and is now learning the management ropes in Pittsburgh.

“We sometimes had our differences, but I always had a lot of respect for him, a high-elite athlete, one of the best players of his age. You have to learn certain components of playing away from the puck, but I felt in the off-season he really tried to improve himself, his nutrition was outstanding.

“I knew he’d become the player he did and today, he has a love and passion for the game. We talked (before a recent Ottawa – Pittsburgh game) and I’m really happy for him. He’s a great sounding board for his GM (Kyle Dubas).”

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If Scotland ever puts a team in the world hockey championships, Angus Crookshank would be the ideal captain. His name alone conjures images of a bagpiper in the Highlands mist.

“My name is about as Scottish as it comes,” the Senators winger said Wednesday morning before facing the Leafs. “It’s traced back to the Isle of Skye in the north and my Dad has a book that traces the Crookshanks back to at least the 1600s.”

He has a clan pendant and tattoos, too.

“It matters a lot to me. I want to go there one day and take my Dad and family.”


Ilya Samsonov was the first Leaf on the ice Wednesday following the three-day break, working with two coaches on issues such as holding his position. Coach Sheldon Keefe indicated he’s leaving him alone to work on mechanics and his mental approach for now, but Samsonov might be needed in this weekend’s back-to-back in Columbus and home to Carolina. “He needed time away from it all, Keefe added … A couple of Leafs squeezed in a quick trip to off-season homes during the break, Nick Robertson to Michigan where brother Jason also made it from Dallas … Knies’s family came to Toronto from Arizona, his grandmother home cooking some Slovakian meals such as duck and believe it or not, swordfish. “It’s a little different from other households,” Knies admitted. “But we love to keep those traditions alive” … Keefe on Minten being named captain for Canada after playing a few games in October with the Leafs: “Tremendous honour and recognition. It’s a credit to the character he has. You never know how it’s going to work out (on a team full of young stars), but you’re not surprised he’s able to make that impression”.


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