Toronto Maple Leafs try to keep their minds off collapse

Ryan Kennedy
Quincey-Rielly

That the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a desperate struggle for wins right now is not news. The Buds take on the rebuilding Calgary Flames tonight in what is a season-defining match-up. In fact, it could end their season if their losing streak hits nine games.

Throughout the skid, the Maple Leafs have been deluged with outside noise from both press and fans alike, which means mental preparation is just as important as the physical portion of their jobs right now.

“It’s pretty much what everyone is talking about right now, but we’re used to it,” said defenseman Jake Gardiner. “We’ve had some ups and downs throughout the season and in the past, so we have to take it in stride.”

For Gardiner, he has tried to block out the outrage of Leafs Nation through TV and movies, recently going to see the biblical epic “Noah” starring Russell Crowe. And he’s not alone.

“I watched ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ last night and ‘Out of the Furnace’ the night before,” said veteran Cody Franson. “I’ve got some family in town, so I’ve been hanging out with them and the new dog (a miniature English bulldog) we’ve got, so I’ve been trying to enjoy that.”

Fellow blueliner Carl Gunnarsson hasn’t really had time for shows lately, but is happy to have his own outlet.

“I’ve had a bunch of stuff back home, personal stuff going on (nothing serious), so it’s been pretty good focusing on other stuff,” he said. “I haven’t had a problem disconnecting from hockey. Obviously it’s right in the back of my head but I’m doing stuff every day. Days off have been go, go, go.”

Obviously heading out on the town or even going to a favorite restaurant is a bit worse right now, since the 24-hour news cycle has plenty of time to chatter about the faults and fissures in the team, but even the youngest members of the squad learned long ago how to compartmentalize criticism in order to stay mentally sharp.

“I don’t check Twitter as often,” said rookie Morgan Rielly. “But you can’t really worry about it too much. In camp you learn about that stuff. There’s tweets saying you’re not on the team and other tweets saying you made the team. After that you just have to worry about what you can control.”

And for the Maple Leafs, that means getting two points from the lowly Flames before another make-or-break game against divisional rival Boston on Thursday.