Muzzin leaves on stretcher in Leafs vic­tory

Rear­guard taken from the ice on a stretcher af­ter awk­ward tum­ble

Windsor Star - - NEWS - STEVE SIM­MONS ssim­ twit­­mon­ssteve

In an empty, frigid and ar­ti­fi­cially noisy Sco­tia­bank Arena, sud­denly there was deaf­en­ing si­lence early on a Tues­day evening.

Si­lence and fear. And no­body mov­ing.

The 3-0 score didn’t seem to mat­ter much with 112 sec­onds left to play. The Leafs were about to tie the best-of-five se­ries against Colum­bus, when Jake Muzzin — fa­ther, hus­band, leader, pro­fes­sional hockey player — went down, be­fore be­ing taken from the ice on a stretcher.

The still sound of the build­ing sud­denly grew more un­com­fort­able.

It wasn’t one of those plays that will have the talk shows scream­ing on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. It was just hockey and the wrong kind of ac­ci­dent. And Muzzin’s head col­lided with the knee of Oliver Bjork­strand af­ter he had lost his bal­ance on a cross check by Pierre-luc Dubois and then, af­ter a few sec­onds that seemed like a lot more than that, the first re­spon­ders with the stretcher raced onto the ice.

Mitch Marner skated near his team­mate to ask how he was do­ing.

“They said give him a sec­ond,” said Marner, not in­di­cat­ing who they were. But this is an ath­lete’s worst fear, those who are hurt and those who are not.

“A lot of things go through your mind,” said Marner. “When he did go down and stayed down ... we’re all pray­ing for him . ...

“There are a lot more im­por­tant things than hockey.”

In the midst of this world-al­ter­ing pan­demic and with so­cial dis­course in North Amer­ica at an all-time high, the re­turn of the Stan­ley Cup Play­offs in early Au­gust seems rather unim­por­tant in the big pic­ture. But the Maple Leafs are so much a fab­ric of this city and hockey is so much a fab­ric of our coun­try, that for a mo­ment and maybe longer, Muzzin’s health was and should have been of grave con­cern.

On every team, play­ers hold down so many roles. Some make you laugh. Some win you games. Some lead, some fol­low. Some play on the edge. Some play like they don’t be­long. And you never re­ally suc­ceed in a sport such as this with­out a Jake Muzzin or three in your lineup.

The cap­tain, John Tavares, who might have played his ab­so­lute best game as a Leaf with all the des­per­a­tion sur­round­ing Game 2, de­scribed Muzzin’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Leafs as “un­mea­sur­able.” Tavares might have been the story on Tues­day, with so much pres­sure on him, so much for him to carry around in his sec­ond sea­son with the Leafs.

The Leafs were all ready to cel­e­brate their 3-0 shutout win, but no­body felt much like cel­e­brat­ing in the end.

You can’t feel that way when you’re not en­tirely cer­tain how your friend and team­mate is do­ing.

“No ques­tion, see­ing one of your team­mates go down, a guy like Muzz, you know the type of war­rior he is. What he brings to our team is un­mea­sur­able,” Tavares said.

Only you can mea­sure a lot of it. On a team de­fen­sively chal­lenged, he’s a rock. He kills penal­ties. He plays against the best for­wards on the op­po­si­tion. He brings a ma­tu­rity that all young teams need, and if any of the kids want a peek at his Stan­ley Cup ring from Los An­ge­les, he can prob­a­bly show them that, too.

Still, as Tavares said, it was “tough to see.”

“It’s dif­fi­cult,” said Leafs goalie Fred­erik An­der­sen, af­ter record­ing his first play­off shutout since leav­ing Ana­heim. “A guy like Jake who ev­ery­one cares about. Be­ing as tough as he is, see­ing him down.” He hopes “all the right steps are be­ing taken.”

It looked like a con­cus­sion, but there are no in­jury up­dates in the NHL in this play­off sea­son. Coach Shel­don Keefe said that Muzzin had been taken to hos­pi­tal, break­ing the double se­cret pro­ba­tion reg­u­la­tions that all hockey peo­ple are now sworn to, and told us Muzzin “was re­spon­sive.”

Leav­ing the bub­ble for the hos­pi­tal comes with some kind of reg­u­la­tions, but no one I talked to seemed cer­tain as to what they are. If it’s a con­cus­sion though, and it looked that way, then Muzzin’s se­ries is over. The Leafs will have to con­tinue with­out their stead­i­est and strong­est de­fence­man.

Muzzin plays im­por­tant min­utes. He hits peo­ple. He leads. And on an un­even Leafs de­fence, where putting to­gether pairs is chal­leng­ing in it­self, los­ing Muzzin makes it all the more chal­leng­ing.

It’s likely Martin Mar­incin will play in Game 3 and Mar­incin is thought to be a rea­son­able penalty killer.

The rest of the time, there’s a rea­son Muzzin is No. 1 or No. 2 on the Leafs’ list of de­fence­men and Mar­incin is No. 7 or No. 8.

Now the team waits for an up­date of some kind — the public will get some­thing like Muzzin is “un­fit to play.”

And like Marner and his team­mates, we wait and hope and pray that ev­ery­thing with Jake Muzzin will be all right.

Leafs de­fence­man Jake Muzzin is car­ried off the ice on a stretcher late in the third pe­riod of Toronto’s 3-0 win over Colum­bus Tues­day. AN­DRE RINGUETTE/FREESTYLE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

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