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And The Exit-Day Award Goes To...

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
: Check out all the exit-day interviews from the Leafs

In hockey, the exit interview is an art form.

The only players who don’t do them are the winners of the Stanley Cup. For all but those at the top of the mountain, disappointment is an indispensable part of the equation.

So is optimism. It wouldn’t do to have your final words to the media be “we’re never going to get out of last place,” as you pack off to the cottage.

There are some protocols. Players won’t admit to knowing where they are going even though almost all of them know whether they are coming back. They don’t pick the team of one ex-teammate over another’s. Thus Kyle Wellwood’s Canucks aren’t any more favoured than the St. Louis Blues of Carlo Colaiacovo and Alexander Steen.

The proper exit interview is a stew, a little bit of spice for interest, a dash of optimism with the crushed bitter pill of finishing out of the playoffs flavouring everything.

Adding to the mixture Monday were 11 Maple Leafs: Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Brad May, Lee Stempniak, Ian White, Curtis Joseph, Jason Blake, Matt Stajan, and Jamal Mayers.

Here then, is the first annual Leafs exit-day awards, the best moments from 11 different goodbyes.

Most earnest:
Luke Schenn in a walk. At 19, Schenn projects the wholesomeness of the kid next door because, well, he is. The thing about Schenn, he is humble, modest even, but he has expectations. He always said he expected to make the Leafs, even with coaches calling him a long-shot to make the team.

“I don’t know that I surprised myself,” he said. “I felt good about my chances of making the team.”

Most faithful use of clichés: Alexei Ponikarovsky. When asked about his upside, Pony said: “I’m not saying I’ll be 100-point guy. I’ll take it game by game…one game at a time.”

Most unfathomable optimism about exercise: Veteran Brad May. “I’m really excited about five months of working out.”

Best bounce from year-end interview to year-end interview: After a 15-goal season in 2007-2008, Jason Blake played meet the press with 25 goals under his belt. His first tumultuous season included a cancer diagnosis. “I was just mentally drained after the first month,” he said of his first Leafs campaign. Now he can look forward to facing Luke Schenn at the Worlds, although Blake left himself wiggle room to back out. “I’m going to smoke him,” he said.

Most gracious:
Niklas Hagman, who lost 12 games to a Brendan Witt headshot. Hagman bears Witt absolutely no ill will and said the Islander defencemen did not mean to hurt him. “That’s hockey,” he said. “It happens.”

Happiest player to be chosen for the World Championships: Ian White. A scratch for the first 11 games of the Leafs season, White is now on the world stage. “I’ll do what I can to make Canada proud,” he beamed.

Player with the most house money:
“I could always retire in a contented fashion over the last 10 years,” said Curtis Joseph, the Leafs 41-year-old free agent goalie. Joseph nonetheless said he made a point of looking down at the Leaf on his chest when he pulled his jersey on, just to appreciate where he was.

Most surprising stat: “As a guy who was here the last time we made the playoffs,” said Matt Stajan, I try to tell the guys how great it is to play in this city at playoff time. There are three of us (Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Tomas Kaberle).

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