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Finger Being A Mentor For Young Marlies

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Jeff Finger makes better than $3 million annually and is a Toronto Marlie indefinitely.

In the American League, few ask for his autograph. Someone else has his seat on the Leafs charter. There are prodigious bus rides and cheesy mascots and well-run miniature NHL franchises and endorsement deals that take the form of a gift certificate at a local eatery.

Like Wade Redden (Hartford) and Sheldon Souray (Hershey), Finger  is a player on a one-way ticket who has been sent down. While he gets every penny he is owed, the team enjoys a double benefit: the NHL salary is off the books and a cheaper one can be inserted in its place.

So when Finger showed up in the office of Dallas Eakins, himself a veteran of the emotional rigours of going up and down,  the Marlies coach had the speech ready to go.

“He spoke before I did,” Eakins said. “He said, ‘I just want to play.’”

“You don’t have to be happy about the situation,” Finger said, “but it’s not going to affect how you live your life or how you conduct yourself at and away from the rink.”

In the minors, the veteran who has been sent down can wreak havoc on the young players he finds.

“I’ve seen it many times,” Finger said. “It has a cancerous effect. Guys get bad attitudes because they see that bad attitude. It’s kind of like they feel sorry for themselves. Believe me, if you are feeling sorry for yourself down here, you are not going to go anywhere.”

At 31, Finger said life on the back end of a career has taught him to prosper 10 minutes down the road from where he wants to play.

“I have spent lots of time, in hockey.  I made it out of the minors and now I’m back,” Finger said. “That’s just the way it goes. The game of hockey has many variables that go into it. It’s a different story when you are on your way up and you are trying to make it.  It’s totally different than the situation I am in.“

“We all want to play in the NHL but he was in a situation where he cleared waivers and this is where it’s at,” Eakins said. “He has been an unbelievable pro about it, but our young defenceman are reaping the benefits of having a guy like him around who has experience.

“You hear him talking to a defenceman on the bench,” said Eakins. “I hear him grabbing a guy during a timeout. I see him talking to our goalies and our forwards.”

He is a spectacularly well-paid player, but then so many are. Finger has another year after this one. What is hard to explain is that while the money is astronomical, at root a hockey player just wants to play.

“The bus doesn’t have wings,” said Eakins. “The food isn’t quite as good. The towels aren’t as thick but the game is the same."

There are consolations. Without agents and media perched above them, the players are free to learn, experiment and experience. A NHL team moves to the dictates of a rigorous agenda.

Last week the team capped off a long road trip with a sumptuous meal at a restaurant owned by a member of Jerry D’Amigo’s family.  That doesn’t happen in the NHL.

“I’m a hockey player,” Finger said. “Most anybody that you tell that you have more fun down here they would tell you were full of it. But there are so many times through the day when you are reminded how lucky you are.  ”

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