An in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at how Auston Matthews and a gang of talented young hockey players are breaking from Toronto’s troubled sporting past and rekindling the city’s love for its team.
Auston Matthews made history on October 12, 2016 by becoming the first player in the modern game to score four goals in his NHL debut. It was a momentous occasion for the talented young All-Star, but it was equally important for his newly adopted city and its storied, century-old team.
That night marked the dawn of a new era for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team had a long and colourful history, and it had always been foundational to the city’s image. But years of losing seasons had tarnished the team’s reputation and left even the most diehard fans questioning their loyalty. It seemed that each passing year brought more of the same: more mediocrity, more heartbreak, more disappointment.
But the team’s management had a plan, one that would take them where others feared to go: a total rebuild. Piece by piece, they were assembling a group of young, talented players who would reshape the team. With the arrival of Auston Matthews, the team’s first overall draft pick in over twenty years, it seemed that the Leafs were ready to break with their past.
Young Leafs follows the team through that remarkable season, tracing the divergent journeys of the players leading up to their unlikely campaign. Matthews—the prodigy with the unorthodox path to the NHL. Marner—the baby-faced talent with immense skill and an infectious energy. Nylander—the son of a former hockey professional, now looking to make his own mark. Reilly—the youngster with the mind of a general. Kadri—the maturing leader once billed as the team’s saviour.
As the ups and downs of the season unfold, the team tries to overcome the ghosts of its past and write a new future, one that is far from certain. Can a group of precocious kids bond together and become winners? Will they be able to carry the hopes of a city? Most important, will Toronto finally have a reason to believe again?
Gare Joyce has written about sports for over thirty years, winning four National Magazine Awards and landing on The Best American Sports Writing notable list seven times. Joyce is the author of eleven books, including Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm and The Devil and Bobby Hull. He is a senior writer with Sportsnet and was previously a hockey columnist for The Globe and Mail and a staff feature writer for ESPN The Magazine and espn.com. Joyce lives in Toronto, seven subway stops from the Air Canada Centre. Connect with him on Twitter @GareJoyceNHL.