On the hockey front, tonight’s games opened the regular season in North America, starting with a battle between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings.
Last season, a prominent Toronto journalist described the Red Wings’ style of play as “ballet on ice,” saying that the media folks actually enjoyed watching the team practice because their puck control and passing abilities made them beautiful to see.
Adding Marian Hossa as a free agent over the summer only strengthened Detroit’s skill at forward. And these Stanley Cup champions had the rare blessing of retaining every key player from their magical march to victory last spring.
But Toronto emerged victorious this evening at the Joe. They didn’t win on skill; they won because they brought more heart to the ice.
Mike Van Ryn blocked shots and dove in the path of oncoming plays like a man on a mission. Jason Blake actually stood in the crease and challenged Detroit’s physical defenseman, almost twice his size. And Pavel Kubina, who most Leafs fans desperately wanted to trade at the deadline and again during the summertime window, scored the first goal of the season.
It was ugly, sloppy, messy hockey with enough board-work and grinding to please any Old Time Hockey enthusiast.
It’s about heart. When the chips are down, when it really counts, who is willing to lay everything on the line? The Toronto Maple Leafs joined together as a unit, and won despite their lack of pure talent. It’s the stuff champions—like Chase Utley—are made of.
Will Toronto maintain that pace through the next 81 games? Probably not. But Toronto fans should be pleased to see that the will and character exist. Now it’s a matter of patiently developing the talent.