Imagine never being nervous.
Late night cram sessions before a test would be a thing of the past. Never would there be that awkward moment when you pray ‘Insufficient Funds’ doesn’t appear on the debit terminal. And let’s not even discuss first dates.
Despite Jake Gardiner admitting otherwise, in his first game at Air Canada Centre he appeared to be no more nervous than if you had asked him to rhyme off the alphabet. Gardiner’s on-ice presence was that of confidence and poise, from the opening face-off right through to his post-game interview taken on-ice after being named the game’s third star.
“The first shift I was feeling pretty good,” said Gardiner, who was acquired by the Maple Leafs earlier this year in a trade with Anaheim for Francois Beauchemin. “I felt really confident with the puck and without the puck. I had the legs going tonight.”
Gardiner’s comments were offered up with a perma-smile, as he finished the contest against the Ottawa Senators with two assists.
“[I was] playing defence first, but if you can get some offense and get a couple points, it makes it even better … For a first game, I was pretty happy with it.”
After joining the Toronto Marlies for ten games late in the AHL season, Gardiner contributed three assists. A feat he almost matched in the Leafs opening preseason tilt. As was the case at Ricoh, the rookie was quick to turn the praise over to his teammates.
“Playing with [John-Michael] Liles it makes it pretty easy for me. He talks to me out there and he moves the puck pretty well.”
Liles, also new to the blue and white though being an NHL veteran of seven years, was evidently a good pairing for Gardiner, helping the youngster through his first shifts.
“He’s a pretty quiet kid so I was saying to him before every shift to make sure he was talking,” offered Liles.
“You’re just making sure that you’re getting in front of guys for him, he’s getting in front of guys for you, and you’re letting him know that you either got time or there’s somebody coming down on him. It’s one of those things, you make the jump from those scrimmages in training camp to a preseason game – it’s obviously a jump up - a lot quicker, you got to get your reads quicker. I think he played great today.”
Gardiner may appear to be master of his emotions while on the ice, but the once collector of Mats Sundin hockey cards admitted he found it tough to find sleep the night before. After all, for many of us growing up, playing for the Leafs is a dream come true.
“Putting on that Maple Leafs sweater is a great honour, so many great players here that have played before me. Playing an NHL game is something that not many people do. I’ve been working for it my whole life.”
Another stand out performance from a Marlies’ player of seasons past was that of netminder Ben Scrivens. After replacing Jonas Gustavsson at the 11:17 mark of the second period, Scrivens played a little more than six minutes before having to make his first save. The Senators didn’t wait nearly as long to test the Cornell University graduate in the third frame, as Scrivens had to make a quick pad save 23 seconds in as the puck found its way to the stick of an Ottawa forward parked just outside the crease.
Scrivens saved 13 of 14 shots, with the only goal against having changed direction after deflecting off Clarke MacArthur’s stick.