I love to see the excitement and joy of a young professional. On Saturday night we had the opportunity to witness such excitement not once but twice.
First it was big Phil Oreskovic who was able to celebrate his first goal of the year and only his second as a pro. Big Phil is just a big kid at heart, and that sure came out as he gave high fives his teammates on the bench with a tongue hanging out and his head wagging to and fro. The goal came at a really good moment. At the 14:11 point of the second period the Marlies had a 1-0 lead and had a 3 on 1 break, when big Phil got into a fight behind the play, taking away a great scoring opportunity. Less than a minute later Manitoba scored to tie the game. It was Phil’s first shift after the fight that he was able to get a shot from the point to find the back of the net.
Phil is not counted on for his scoring but this physical stay at home defenseman leads the team with a plus 8. I was asked this week if I thought Phil could play for the Leafs someday. Defensively Phil has good positioning which helps to make up for a lack of speed. Defensemen usually take longer to develop, and in only his second year he is developing nicely. I would say the dream is still alive, and that is great for this nice young man.
Second came from the AHL debut of James Reimer. With the call up of Justin Pogge to the big club for his NHL debut, the call went out to Reimer, giving him a special Christmas present. Reimer arrived in Toronto on Christmas day and was the back up to Adam Munro in Cleveland on Boxing Day. Saturday back at home he got the call to start the game. He looked a little nervous early on but kept the puck out of the net. It was late in the third period that he really started to shine make a couple of huge saves to preserve the tie and sent the game eventually to a shoot out.
In the shoot out Toronto scored on its first two shooters and Reimer had shut down the first three Moose shooters. It looked like an easy win, but with misses from our next two shooters and a goal finally getting past Reimer, it all came down to the final shooter on Reimer. Then, with an enormous glove save, Reimer had his first AHL win.
The excitement was evident as he made his way off the ice after being named the games first star. The ear to ear grin was that of a kid who realized that his childhood dream of playing in the NHL was still alive.
Yes, the NHL has the best players in the world, but for me it is the excitement that I see in AHL players trying to make their dreams come true, that makes the AHL my choice of hockey.