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Key Is To Learn From Your Mistakes

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs play the Sabres tonight.

I’ll get to that.

Let’s talk about the guys who change your oil, teach your kids or broker your divorce.

They were Offensive Defencemen With No Concept of Risk. Call them ODCRs for short.

When you walk into the Leafs dressing room, you find Jake Gardiner, a 21-year-old prospect whose ability to outrun some of his errors makes him a blue-chipper. His is the seat right beside the back door, as befits a young player competing against six established NHLers.

Gardiner’s career hasn’t lacked for success. Working against him, at least for a while, him is a scarcity of failure.

Being an offensive defenceman isn’t like walking a tightrope between buildings. It’s like walking a tightrope with  20 of your friends and 19,000 jubilant strangers on your shoulders, egging you toward the other side.

But things  get a little wobbly in the middle and what looked good can quickly turn sour. The
only risk-free offensive chance comes in the pre-game skate.

And that’s what’s missing in Jake Gardiner’s portfolio. Failure, gut-wrenching, soul-destroying, what-were you thinking public failure.

It’s a hard thing to wish for.  Pro athletes don’t look for disaster.

“I don’t know if that’s needed or not but I am sure it would work,” Gardiner said, looking as if he just found some very old cheese.

Placed diametrically across the room, as if by divine planning, you will find the locker of 30-year-old John Michael-Liles. Liles has failed, early and often. He also has more career points than anyone else on the roster.

When Liles came into the league in 2001 he was tutored by Hall of Fame bound Rob Blake.
The two were paired in Liles’ first two years in the league.  In those two seasons, Liles delivered 28 goals and 94 points.

“When you watched Rob’s game, he would make mistakes,” Liles said. “He took risks every now and then but he was a guy who could change a game by making that right play. “

Legendary Supreme Court Justice Warren Berger, a superstar who rarely left the bench, once said he could not define pornography but he knew it when he saw it.

You can’t define the perfect spot for a defenceman to jump into the rush. The good ones know it when they see it but even for them, failure is necessarily built into the equation. The last thing the Leafs want Jake Gardiner to do is emulate Keith Aulie.

“Mistakes are a part of the game, maybe the biggest,” Liles said.  “The key is one minimize and two learn from them. But you have to remember, you are always trying to push the envelope and there are definitely times when it bites you in the ass. “

The Leafs are justifiably bullish on Gardiner. With Liles on the final year of his contract, it may fall to Gardiner to execute the same daring Liles brings nightly to the rink. But they will not know what they have, really have, until they see Gardiner fail and then, in turn, succeed.

“You don’t have one bad night and get gonged,” said Ron Wilson, a one-time offensive defenceman not working at Cosco. “We saw so many things in the rookie tournament and the couple of exhibition games. We have to keep testing him.”

Notes: James Reimer expects to play the entire game against Buffalo. If asked, Reimer said he would be comfortable starting the season tomorrow…The race for a job between Carl Gunnarsson and Mike Komisarek continues to puzzle. Wilson has said sending Gunnersson to the minors is unfeasible.  Today he said Komisarek is sewing up a spot on the team. “He has played fine. He is going to fit into one of the defence (spots) if he keeps playing the way he is.”…On the subject of bumps and bruises, Tyler Bozak gets the night off because of an assortment of smaller injuries. In his place between Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri will be Darryl Boyce, whose nose was broken Wednesday after he was hit head-first into the boards.
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