TAVARES CALM BE­FORE EX­PEC­TA­TIONS SWELL

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY [email protected]

On the blue car­pet at Mon­day’s TIFF gala (Tavares In­quisi­tors Film Fes­ti­val) a bank of cam­eras and mi­cro­phones was in po­si­tion when the Maple Leafs’ new star came on set.

In his first ma­jor pre-sea­son par­lay with the Toronto me­dia — af­ter a sum­mer of read­ing or hear­ing a slew of pos­i­tives about his ar­rival and the fu­ture of the team — it was time to talk about get­ting to work and putting some pop in those pro­jec­tions.

But ahead of Thurs­day’s train­ing camp med­i­cals, Tavares was mea­sured in his com­ments, no big pro­nounce­ments about reg­u­lar sea­son numbers for him­self or his team­mates.

The word play­offs was not ut­tered, never mind when the in­evitable Cup ques­tion came up.

“You go into ev­ery sea­son and that’s the goal,” Tavares said at the club’s char­ity golf tour­na­ment out­side Toronto (can­celled due to in­clement weather).

“We’ll just worry about the jour­ney, get­ting ready for the start of the sea­son.”

Not too long ago, the Leafs were be­ing asked at this an­nual event if they had enough horses to make the play­offs, never mind go four rounds. That was be­fore Mike Bab­cock put his stamp on the team and Lou Lamor­iello, fol­lowed by Kyle Dubas.

The ma­jor ad­di­tion was Tavares, who signed for seven years at US$77 mil­lion, re­turn­ing to his home­town. He turns 28 Sept. 20.

Af­ter a whirl­wind sum­mer of fret­ting free agency, mak­ing a grace­ful exit from Long Is­land, get­ting mar­ried and then im­mers­ing him­self with his new club, Tavares says he’s in the right frame of mind for what many hope is a long ride into May or June.

“I’ve been able to just be my­self and live my daily life,” said the Mis­sis­sauga na­tive. “That was a big thing for me. Even when I was in New York and com­ing back in the sum­mer, peo­ple were great to me. I didn’t want to change the way I live and who I am.

“Ob­vi­ously, it’s an ad­just­ment, be­ing in one place as long as I have been. There is some fa­mil­iar­ity from be­ing from here, but there are still a lot of new things.

“Plenty of days I’ve gone out and not been rec­og­nized. I’ve had a lot of at­ten­tion about peo­ple be­ing happy that I’m com­ing home . ... That support has been fan­tas­tic. (Now it’s) just wor­ry­ing about my­self and do­ing what I have to do to be ready for the sea­son and help con­trib­ute.”

He didn’t par­tic­i­pate in too many of the club’s scrim­mage games in the weeks lead­ing up to camp, but did see some of Mitch Marner, whom Bab­cock in­di­cated would be on his right wing.

“We’ve been on the ice a cou­ple of times to­gether,” Tavares said. “It’s just the en­ergy he brings, it’s in­fec­tious. He has a lot of speed.”

Tavares has also been hang­ing around be­hind the scenes at the club’s prac­tice rink.

“It’s good to get fa­mil­iar with ev­ery­body,” he said, “the locker-room and the staff, get that com­fort level, build those re­la­tion­ships and that chem­istry you want to carry over to the ice and lead to a lot of suc­cess.”

Tavares has also grown a lit­tle closer to GM Dubas since July 1.

“A lot of guys look at his age (32), but it’s how much be­lief he has in him­self,” he said of his new boss. “And I don’t think it’s an over­con­fi­dence, it’s just the way he car­ries him­self and his abil­ity to have his vi­sion and be­lief in how things should be man­aged here, the peo­ple around him and the process.

“That was im­pres­sive to me — how he can get every­one on the same page.”

The Tavares chap­ter has be­gun.

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