Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Matt Stajan-Young Veteran
Matt Stajan scored his first goal as a Toronto Maple Leaf during the 2002-2003 season. Since that time he has played more than four hundred games in the National Hockey League. Although the title of this article seems to be an oxymoron, it holds true for Stajan. He recently celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday. He is playing in his seventh season as a Leaf, and also played eighty games for the “Baby Leafs” in Newfoundland during the lockout season.
In a recent column in The Intelligencer, Ady Vos intimated that despite Stajan’s durability and, if I may be so bold as to use the word loyalty, he gets little respect from many Leaf fans. “Stajan is a favourite whipping boy of Leaf fans on the internet,” wrote Vos. “One fan even believes Stajan is the worst player in Leafs history,” he continued. Vos also pointed out that Stajan, at that point, had accumulated 17 points in his last 16 games. (Note to Matt Stajan: Ignore the criticism on the net.)
I caught up with Stajan at the Air Canada Centre following a recent Leafs’ win against the Ottawa Senators. Always the gentleman, he took the time to share a few mid-season thoughts following the game. “After games like this, I know that we are coming together as a team. There is a confidence building here. We’re becoming a tougher team to play against.” When I asked him about his opinion on his own game, he replied, “I just try to work as hard as I can”.
Matthew Stajan is consistent. His Maple Leaf career parallels his junior seasons with the Belleville Bulls. Each year, he played more effectively, developed his game in the defensive zone, and managed to add to his points totals. In his first full season with the Leafs, he had 27 points. Last year in 76 games, he racked up 55 points. After 32 games this year, he had 26 points with 11 goals. A quick extrapolation leads to another year of progress for the young Leaf warrior.
Stajan got rocked in a recent game in Toronto. He dropped his head slightly to pick up a wayward pass and paid the price. The check was legal, but a little unnecessary, according to some sources. There is however, that intimidation factor that goes with the territory.
The circumstance is similar to that of a wide receiver who runs crossing patterns in professional football. If you are about to receive a pass that is above your head, and slightly behind you, you can expect some “comeuppance”. A good middle linebacker, or a good safety, will pay you a visit and let you know that they do not like you catching wayward passes in their defensive zone. Likewise for hockey.
Stajan got stitched up and returned to the game following the hit.
Former NHLer Rick Meagher has a fine story from his days as a New Jersey Devil. While on the injured list, he sat for a game in a box with the team owner, and the owner’s neighbour, Yogi Berra. Berra, the New York Yankee Hall of Famer, is well known for his quirky observations about almost any topic. He watched the game intensely. He moved to the edge of his seat when one of the players caught an errant puck above the eye, and bled profusely.
Later in the game, that same player, stitched and taped, took a regular shift. Berra checked the program, checked the player’s number. He then asked Rick: “Is that not the same guy who left the pool of blood on the ice in the first period?” Meagher confirmed Berra’s suspicion.
Yogi then said to Meagher, “These guys are tough! When I managed the Mets, I once lost a pitcher for two weeks with a hangnail!” Yogi at his best!
Last night’s game against the Sabres was yet another heartbreaker for the Blue and White. Another overtime loss, another point, nonetheless. Those points will come in handy much later in the season.
Many pundits attempt, daily, to analyze the Leafs’ chances to make the playoffs. It’s a little early for all of that. Right now, it is a day by day challenge, according to Stajan.
And one that the Leafs will meet as a team. At least until they can catch a little fun in the sun at the Olympic break!