It may just have been the preseason but Sunday night’s tilt in Toronto between the Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres is having everyone in T-Dot buzzing about the upcoming season which is slated to start in less than two weeks.
While the Leafs won by a score of 5-3, that wasn’t the story that came out from Sunday night’s contest. Sure, the Leafs winning a game may be impressive but even fans of the blue-and-white will tell you how trivial a preseason victory really is.
The most noteworthy of what happened at the Air Canada Centre didn’t involve goals, which team won or lost or anything else that would only appear on the scoresheet.
Continuing their bitter rivalry, the Leafs and Sabres were involved in a scuffle which saw 6’8 enforcer John Scott of the Sabres pick on Phil Kessel, David Clarkson essentially suspending himself for 10 games by leaving the bench during a fight (as per NHL policy) and two netminders going at it with each other while not content to simply just hold each other and dance.
Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier decided to drop the gloves and give the fans at the ACC, especially those who were fans of the middleweight division back in its heyday, a modern version of Hagler versus Hearns.
While this wasn’t Miller’s first fight, it was (in the NHL, at least) the first bout for Bernier who also became the first Leaf to get into a tussle since Felix Potvin got physical back in 1996.
While he longer plays for the Los Angeles Kings, watching or even hearing about Jonathan Bernier makes me think he still dons the silver-and-black. Nevertheless, watching Bernier go toe-to-toe with another netminder was bittersweet. While it is unfortunate we couldn’t see this type of animosity from No. 45 in Los Angeles, it is at least refreshing to know that Jonathan Bernier is not the type to back down, especially when up against an experienced Miller.
While I do have plenty of respect for him, Ryan Miller’s attitude over the last couple of years has left me feeling disappointed in the Michigan State alum. I’m not saying I’m happy that a netminder had the guts to take Miller on (and I’m certainly relieved that he wasn’t hurt) but Ryan Miller’s tendency to whine like a baby in recent memory does leave me feeling satisfied that someone isn’t afraid to tell him, for all intents and purposes, to zip it. In this case, that someone was Jonathan Bernier and as a former King in addition to being a fan favourite in Los Angeles, I could not have been more pleased.
While he has shown his prowess physically, Jonathan Bernier has also showed promise between the pipes. Last night alone, the newest Leaf stopped 28 shots to preserve the victory for his new team.
As I mentioned at an earlier date, with such a slew of unsuccessful goaltenders in Toronto over the past decade, it’s almost vindicating to see the Leafs end up with Jonathan Bernier. While this isn’t the first time they acquired a California-based backup (Vesa Toskala in 2007 being the first), the Maple Leafs can at least ride on the fact that the Kings, unlike the San Jose Sharks, patiently condition and develop their talent like no other team. End result? A Stanley Cup victory in 2012.
With that said, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, the Gerald Ford of sports ownership, is now run by Tim Leiweke who was previously CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, the company that owns Jonathan Bernier’s old club in Los Angeles.
While he won’t be expected to drop the gloves every other game, Jonathan Bernier is already proving that he is the new real deal in Toronto – and this one netminder is someone the fans in TO nor the powers-that-be at MLSE should ever take for granted.