Wendel Clark, Rick Vaive offer their advice to the current Maple Leafs at alumni game
9 days ago
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, it’s certainly strong enough to draw hundreds of fans back to Nathan Phillips Square for the Maple Leafs alumni game, an extension of the three-day outdoor practice series. While the current Maple Leafs are gearing up for the latest instalment in the Battle of Ontario, over a dozen greats from yesteryear are in the heart of the downtown core with fans and ex-players alike taking trips down memory lane.
Wendel Clark, Rick Vaive, Todd Gill, Brad Boyes, Nick Kypreos, Kris King Mikhail Grabovski, Luca Caputi, Mike Zigomanis are among the alumnus in attendance. Before the game begins, Clark, who is coaching both teams oversees the ceremonial puck drop between Vaive and Gill, who are captaining their respective teams.
And while the game itself is structured into two fifteen minute periods with a running clock, defense is optional, Carlton the Bear is one of the goalies and makes precisely zero high-danger saves. That’s not what the fans are here for, however and Clark is in a great mood after the game concludes, then proceeds to sign autographs after his media availability.
“It’s always great,” Clark said of the alumni game. “It’s the closest thing the fans can get to the Blue and White, even though we’re part of the alumni. The current guys were out here the last couple of days. I think it’s awesome to be close to the fans and the fans are the greatest thing. The area here, playing for the Leafs, the fans are awesome.
Clark is effectively Maple Leafs emeritus so it’s natural to ask for his advice on the current group, currently sitting third in the Atlantic Division while facing a pivotal stretch of the season entering the trade deadline.
“They just go out and play. You’re going to be hot and cold, especially guys who get points, you’re going to go through stretches where the puck isn’t following you, nothing you can do about it. You look at Auston (Matthews) at the start of the year and then heck, if he started the way he’s ending, he’d be at a goal-a-game right now! You just stay on it, you stay near the net, you stay around it, you keep battling and the good players, the puck will start going their way again.”
Vaive has taken on various roles within the Maple Leafs’ ecosystem since his playing career ended. He lives and breathes Toronto hockey and his son, Justin, was John Tavares’ minor hockey teammate with the Toronto Marlboros and is still playing for the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones.
“This is a great hockey town, let’s face it,” Vaive told The Leafs Nation when asked about the importance of the alumni event. “Montreal, Toronto are probably the two best markets in the world if you’re a hockey player and I got to play here for seven years, I’m very thankful for that.”
Vaive also offered some light pointers for the 2023-24 Maple Leafs.
“Just dig in there. Play hard in your own zone. Make the little plays. If you got to chip it off the glass to get it out instead of turning it over, yes. Play a little more physical. If they played a little more physical, they have the ability, they have a lot of goal-scorers so things could be very good.”
This is a hockey-mad city and if the past two weeks have been any indication, it lives in every corner of the downtown core. Clark, Vaive and the rest of the alumnus are the fabric of the team’s rich history and we’ll have to see if this year’s group heeds their advice during a crucial year of the franchise’s timeline.
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