The obvious one is the lottery, but I'd pick one a little different. It was at the World Cup of Hockey, a mostly forgettable second-rate Olympics, with the exception that it had the most electric team I have ever seen on ice. Team North America was more fun to watch than almost any team I've ever seen. I'd put their final overtime against any international contest since the 2010 Canada vs. Russia "Gorillas out of a cage" game. They were so good. But, it's something specific about that game.
Auston Matthews was on Team North America, and it was the first time I'd really watched him for extended periods. And he was so, so good. After starting the tournament in the bottom six as the youngest forward on Team NA, he earned a promotion in a single game. He undressed Victor Hedman while falling down and didn't lose the puck. He winged Connor McDavid and the two of them made beautiful music. And for the first time I thought, holy shit, it's real, he's as good as he's supposed to be. For the first time maybe since Wendel Clark and maybe since Darryl Sittler, the Leafs drafted a franchise player. Sometime when he was running around doing magic in those death-metal jerseys, I started to believe it.
Fifty Mission Cap
I'm going to go with the same, but different. The draft. The lottery was when we knew we would get Auston Matthews, but seeing him walk to the podium and put on the new jersey with the new maple leaf....something in me felt like there was a new beginning. Like all the crap in the past just didn't matter anymore because we were about to start over, start fresh, and what is going to come will be unbelievable.
On the ice, Mitch Marner's first goal. Auston's debut won't be forgotten, but Marner, in his shadow, scored his first NHL goal for his hometown team in his hometown in front of his family on a beautiful snipe that showed off just how skilled a shot he is.
As much as we're a Leafs blog, it's hard for me to choose anything but Phil lifting the Cup. For him to have the playoffs he did, after all the garbage he took from fans and media - it was very fun to watch as someone who always stood up for Kessel. And during a season where frankly, there wasn't much going on from a Leafs perspective besides their quest for 30th place, it was fun to have some heavy investment in the playoffs too. When the Penguins won, and Kessel was skating around with the Cup, it was so awesome to see his incredible joy... something we didn’t see a lot of when he was here. And it was made even better by the fact that without any fanfare, he chose to spend his day with the Cup in Toronto, with hospitalized children. It shows the type of player and person Kessel is, and honestly, it was probably one of my favourite moments as a fan.
My favorite memory from this season was Auston Matthews' first NHL game. I remember how he silenced any dissenting opinions about his number one status, one goal at a time.
The first goal, Leafs twitter all cheered. The second goal, we were floored. The hat trick made us stunned, and then, when the opposing team evened up the score, I remember tweeting, "You're going to have to get one more, Auston." -- And then he got one more. The game was a Leafs loss, but it filled me with such hope that these losses wouldn't happen for very long.
The Golden Goal. Before the year had even really begun, the forgotten Leafs prospect at the WJC won the game and the championship in front of his family, his country and the world. It was an amazing game.
It was also a festival of smugness for me. First the losing side, the Russians, were good like I'd said they were. On that team was a tall, gangly kid named Yegor Korshkov who sure looked impressive. But, also, Mikko Rantanen, who I'd kept saying was at William Nylander's level in the AHL (not just to troll people) scored the first important Finnish goal. And then Kapanen, grossly overshadowed by the Aho, Laine and Puljujärvi line, won the game after days of high shot rates and no points to speak of. It was a delight, all of it, and a very good, tight competitive game, which the WJC does not always provide.
My favourite hockey moment of 2016 had little to do with the Leafs. Last year's Finland-Russia gold medal game at the 2016 World Juniors was one of the most entertaining games of hockey I've ever watched, and Kapanen's finish after Finland scored with two minutes left and then gave up the lead with six seconds, was perfect.
I think my favourite "moment" this year is really more of an emerging phenomenon. Mitch Marner absolutely ran the tables on every other major junior player last season and I got to watch much of the Knights' playoff run, interview Marner a bunch of times, and see first hand what a fantastic player he is. One thing that sold me on Marner was to actually get a little glimpse of what a good guy he is - not breaking commitments to meet a couple young fans after just learning that his childhood home had burned to the ground, and that his cat and dog were unaccounted for. Marner was already working like a professional, even when he was still in junior, and it all seemed to come from a very honest place to make a kid's day.
Then, of course, Marner shone brightly at the rookie tournament, and still pundits doubted that he could make an impact, owing to his size. I said he would be even better than Nylander, and although the T25U25 consensus disagreed (and I had moments of doubt as well), Marner has, in my eyes, been more impressive. Of course, this is not a knock on Nylander - he's looked great, too - but Marner's game is a complete one. His defensive awareness was better than even Matthews', at least at the start of the season. That I got to be in the rink when Marner scored his first goal (against the Bruins, no less) was a lot of fun, and I hope to be there for a lot more.
Actually, maybe that's kind of a cheater answer. I'll focus on one
Well I'll give the other and I'll let the author decide which to choose.Mitch Marner and the London Knights had just beaten the Niagara Ice Dogs 4-1 in Game 1 of the OHL finals. Marner had a goal and an assist, the assist being a great pass behind Travis Dermott for a great goal. After being named second star of the night, everyone in the press box expected Marner to be made available - he was the Knights' co-captain, after all. Instead, although Marner was seen milling about the dressing room hallway, we were told that he was not going to speak to anyone, even in a scrum. A few eyebrows were raised when one reporter actually did get the chance to speak with Marner, but instead of asking questions, the reporter was answering them - he was showing Marner a video of his childhood home burning in a huge fire. Marner had just found out that his childhood home was in ashes. He hugged his mom and dad, and they chatted, but Marner didn't leave.
Then, two adults brought a young disabled boy in to meet Marner. Marner had promised to meet him, and chatted with the boy for a bit, signing a jersey and smiling for a photograph - like nothing was wrong. We had no idea what had happened until later. If memory serves, Marner then waited around for another fan he had agreed to meet before heading home, and it wasn't until after he had left that the rest of the media learned of the fire.
Marner was already acting like a professional, even though he was still in junior, and what made it better was that it all seemed so natural to him. Every time I saw him in the hallway after a game he'd be joking around with a kid, giving away his cap, even a cookie. Wait, why would a hockey player be eating cookies after a game? Wouldn't they be scarfing healthy snacks? The answer: it was Marner's birthday. His home burnt down on his birthday, and he still stuck around to hang out with kids.
Hard not to cheer for him.
*Marner's 19th birthday, no less.
Fifty Mission Cap: plus, he's now been adopted as Matt Martin's Large Adult Son.
Carpenter's golden goal at Worlds.
It was something like 1:30 in the morning on the East Coast, the US and Canada were locked in OT, and while Rigsby put in a great performance, Maschmeyer was looking fucking unbeatable. And of course, the eventual goal wasn't pretty or breathtaking, it was a poked-in rebound from my favorite-least-favorite NCAA player that would barely touch Carpenter's highlight reel if it hadn't won a world championship. That game was everything US vs Canada games should be--intense, exciting, and a nail-biting toss-up until the last moment. [Author's Note: if I'm banned for this post, someone tell Auston Matthews I love him.]
I'd also like to put in a honorable mention for watching Amanda Kessel score in the NCAA championships after coming back from her concussion.
Simply getting the chance to contribute here by covering games.
It started randomly by agreeing to work with Stanley Cup of Chowder to cover the CWHL All-Star Game last January.
That was followed with the chance to shadow the Solar Bears on their first ever trip to Ontario, which happened because the ECHL merged with the Central Hockey League.
I then jumped at the chance to cover the Marlies as they destroyed their division and advanced to a Calder Cup Playoff run. Ultimately, that run ended unexpectedly early in the Eastern Conference Finals, but, for myself, it was a time I pushed myself into places I never thought I would go. I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by PPP, the support I have received, and all the new friends I have made in this time both here and around the SBNation Network in this time.
Honourable mention: JvR’s hat trick.
You didn’t expect to get through this without a JvR highlight, did you?