After practice Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Hayley Wickenheiser’s promotion to senior director of player development, the significance of the Leafs-Canadiens rivalry, the team’s defensive improvements this season and the value of the team’s veteran line (Thornton, Spezza, Simmonds).
Practice lines – May 17
# Leaves PP units the same as yesterday.
– David Alter (@dalter) May 17, 2021
While the Leafs’ special teams are working, some PK units:
Hyman – Marner
Foligno – Nash
Kerfoot – Mikheyev
Muzzin – All
Brodie – Dermott / Bogosian @TSN_Edge
– Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 17, 2021
5 vs 3 Leafs units
Matthews – Nylander
Marner – Hyman – Tavares
Sandin – Rielly
Thornton – Simmonds – Spezza
Leafs units 6 against 5
Sandin, Marner, Nylander, Matthews, Tavares, Hyman
Rielly, Spezza, Kerfoot, Foligno, Thornton, Simmonds @TSN_Edge
– Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 17, 2021
With the promotion of Hayley Wickenheiser to Senior Director of Player Development and the hiring of Danielle Goyette as Director of Player Development, can you talk about what Hayley has meant for the organization and the addition of Danielle also?
Keefe: It goes without saying that Hayley has made significant contributions to the sport both as a player and now in the role she has played with our team over the past several years. I worked with her a lot during my time with the Marlies when she was working in player development. She has really contributed a lot to the player development program. I learned a lot chatting with her.
She played the game at a high level, obviously, and she’s an elite talent. She has the unique combination of elite talent, elite intelligence and elite work ethic. All of these things shine through in her role every time she has been around myself, the coaching staff and the players.
Taking her to a significant milestone in a leadership position now within the development agenda is a huge victory for our organization. I can’t speak highly enough of Hayley for what she brings to the hockey side. Outside of hockey there is so much she is involved in helping people across the country. His willingness to complete his medical degree here… It is more than impressive.
It’s not just those accomplishments but meeting and being around her, I was only impressed from the very first conversation I had with her. The fact that she takes a leadership position in our organization is a great victory for us.
I was happy to see Hayley in the building today. I know she started immediately.
I don’t know Danielle Goyette other than to say that she looks a lot like Hayley when it comes to her achievements on the ice as a player – especially with the national team – and that she has been coaching here for several years as well. . and had success there. I know she was right at the top of Hayley’s list. If it’s good with Hayley, it’s good with me. This is another big victory for our organization there.
What does it say about the organization that Kyle Dubas would take it in such a direction by giving top positions to a few women and leading in this area?
Keefe: I think it shows where the sport itself is growing. Like I said, the first time you meet Hayley Wickenheiser, you know right away that she has a lot to offer. I’ve told other people this before – she played the girls’ game, obviously, but she has an elite hockey spirit. She sees the game and treats the game on a par with the elite players who play the male game. From this point of view, it brings a lot.
Over the years that I have been in the organization here now, the number of women has increased dramatically. Regardless of the position, I think they have brought so much and improved the organization in so many ways. For this to continue to grow, it is a very positive thing for us and for the hockey community in general.
As a young Ontarian who has spent a lot of time coaching in Pembroke – a city that’s probably divided fairly evenly between Senators, Canadiens and Leafs fans – are you able to pull away from the games and feel what it is like does it mean to people?
Keefe: It’s probably difficult because I haven’t seen or spoken to too many people these days. But I think you recognize it. My dad – and really my whole family – is from Prince Edward Island, and it’s a split province. The Leafs-Canadiens rivalry – I grew up with a lot of that, and it’s been a very long time since they were together here in a playoff series. It means a lot to a lot of people – probably a lot of older people – and we hope that through it it will rekindle that rivalry.
If the Habs are looking to turn this into an ultra-physical series, what’s the best way for your squad to fight that?
Keefe: Just keep playing and play on it. We have to be physical ourselves. Playoff hockey demands it. Montreal is up there with the most physical teams in the NHL, even in the regular season, and we’ve played against them 10 times. This is not entirely new to us. We know what to expect.
At the same time, the playoffs are going to bring a higher level of physicality to everyone, including ourselves, and we’re more than prepared for it.
With Zach Bogosian wearing a regular jersey, is he getting any closer to coming back for you guys? What is the status of Ben Hutton, who has been missing for a few days?
Keefe: The fact that Bogosian no longer has the contactless jersey today is a positive step. We have a day off tomorrow, then another day of practice. This will be part of his progression. He’s not quite there yet from what I’m told, but obviously the more repetitions he gets, the closer he gets. We certainly expect it to be available in this series.
As for Ben Hutton, he has a non-Covid medical situation that our staff are monitoring. It is not related to hockey. That’s all I have for now. He’s going to be leaving the rink for the next little while here before taking more tests.
The team’s average goals against has dropped significantly from last season. What have been the main improvements in your own zone game?
Keefe: If you look over the course of the season, when we haven’t been perfect in this area – I don’t think a team really is – we’ve really reduced the number of rushes and odd breaks that come up. to us, whether it is breakaways, 2 against 1 or open eyes on our net. We have drastically reduced that amount, whether in a rush or in our own area.
It’s been a priority for us, really, going back to my first bubble camp for the Columbus series. We felt we had made good progress through that and then continued to build on it during this training camp for this season. The players really bought into that. The combination of that and having good goalkeepers at the right time has really helped us.
It was a big priority for us. We were right at the bottom of the NHL a season ago for goals against. You cannot compete at a high level when it does. Our players are very committed to it. We’ve pretty much reversed the trend to be near the top of the league with 5v5 goals. That’s the main reason we’ve maintained such a strong place in the standings.
Only Joe Thornton was alive among your squad the last time the Leafs faced the Habs in the playoffs. You weren’t even alive the last time they met in the playoffs. How would you describe the symbolic meaning of a playoff series between Montreal and Toronto?
Keefe: It’s very symbolic in terms of history, but it’s been a very long time. If you look at the Canadian division that meets here in this strange season, you’ve looked at the potential for an opportunity like this to occur where you can rekindle such rivalry. It’s been a regular season battle, and the provincial battles and all those kinds of sporting rivalries are real.
It’s as real as it is happening here now. It’s a good opportunity for the fans to experience that. It’s not quite the same when buildings are empty, but you know there are going to be a lot of people in front of their televisions. We look forward to a really physical, competitive and contested series.
Having Thornton, Spezza and Simmonds on one line together, what value can that line have against Montreal?
Keefe: We hope this can be useful, of course. All three players bring very unique skills with their experience. They are all equally tall and strong. We will seek to place them in the right places to be successful. The three people are very precious in our room. We have great voices. They use these voices to tap into the experiences they have had.
They’ve been a huge help to our team this season – not just on the ice, but in terms of our squad which really comes together. We talked a little bit ago about our defensive upgrades and all that sort of thing. This stuff doesn’t happen if you don’t develop team camaraderie and responsibility. These three guys – Spez, Jumbo, Simmer – really led the way in this department.