Let’s be honest, at least as honest as “fans” can be: just about every player (on every team, but especially in
) looks great at training camp. Toronto
Everyone is in “great shape”, according to the coach. Even better than last year. (Makes us wonder why we believed them when they said the same thing last year. Same as when advertisers say, "Our product is 30% improved." Poor us, I guess, who bought the old version.) Guys are flying. Many players are “even stronger” than last year. The young guys are bigger, heavier, but in a good way, we’re told. The adrenaline is pumping. Tough guys fight to impress the coaching staff and management. Spots are “up for grabs”.
It’s training camp. Everything is rosy. Everyone is healthy. It’s all good.
So how do we separate fantasy from reality?
It’s not easy, but as with most things in life, infusing, as best we can, some perspective usually helps. Let’s take the case of young Jerry D’Amigo. Here is a young man who gave up his
scholarship to sign a professional contract with the Leafs. Such decisions are not taken lightly at any age, and certainly not when you are 19. It seems clear this young man can play. But he is young. U.S.
If, as fans, we are expecting him to make the team, play big minutes and score 30 goals, then obviously—while that is not impossible, I suppose— we are running before we walk. What we do know is D’Amigo appears to carry with him some tangible assets, chief among them being his tremendous speed.
Just like you can’t have too much pitching in baseball (I actually can’t think of a major league team that does these days), you can never have enough speed on your team. Speed alone is not enough, to be sure. But blended with other traits in an individual player, or within the framework of a balanced team, boy, speed can help—a lot.
I’m trying to think, in recent years, of guys who have played for the Leafs who just flat out were among the elite NHL’ers in terms of pure speed. On other teams we all remember Mogilny as a kid in
before he was hurt. Pavel Bure with the Canucks. Guys who could skate like the wind. Glenn Anderson with the Oilers in his hey-day, too. (For me, Gilbert Perreault of the Sabres in the early 1970s, but that was a long time ago, I realize!) Buffalo
They create all kinds of problems for the opposition, and can often make the players around them even better. Sundin could skate, and he was powerful to boot, which was a tremendous combination. But he never seemed to have another guy who could fly along with him. Gary Roberts was great on his wing, but speed wasn’t his thing.
Now we look at someone like D’Amigo, and hope he can build on the tools he already has. Can he make the Leafs this season? Is that even on their minds? Or have they penciled him in for a full year with the Marlies, to get him accustomed to the demands of a long, 80-game professional hockey season?
Whatever, a kid like D’Amigo is part of what makes training camp fun for fans. Someone to enjoy, someone playing with the enthusiasm you would expect to see in a “kid”. Someone who, until recently, we knew relatively little about. But we know he can play.
When he will get the chance to play in
, well waiting for that is part of the fun, too. Toronto