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Reflecting & Inspiring the Imagination of the Next Generation

by Kristina Costabile MapleLeafs /

There was a moment during a contest against the Minnesota Wild in early January last season that defenceman Travis Dermott took a look around Scotiabank Arena.

It wasn't just any regular afternoon game on the 2018-19 schedule, it was the inaugural Next Gen Game presented by Scotiabank.

There were kids as in-arena hosts, announcers, and much more. Not to mention the bowl was filled to the brim with families of all ages watching their favourite team take on the Wild. 

And Dermott couldn't help but put himself in the kid's shoes.

"All I was imagining was if I was that age, how awesome that would be," said Dermott, explaining the atmosphere of January's Next Gen Game. "The kids that were doing the announcing were hilarious. They're so confident and it's awesome to see because I'd be probably shaking in my boots if I was that age (doing that)."

As the team hosts the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, it'll mark the first of four Next Gen Games that the Maple Leafs have on tap for this season. The games are a chance to celebrate the coming generations of Leafs fans as an abundance of kids, including some who may be taking in their first NHL games, pile into the arena.

Three more Next Gen Games are on the schedule in the new year, starting on February 1st when the buds host the Ottawa Senators, followed by February 29th's match against the Vancouver Canucks and the initiative's finale takes place on March 21st against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It's really cool what they do for the kids," said Dermott, who will be honoured with his own bobblehead at one of four Toronto Marlies Next Gen bobblehead giveaway games this season when the AHL club hosts the Laval Rocket on March 28th. 

"They all come in and it's probably the loudest the rink will be, at least until playoffs. It's obviously really cool to have them and see all the little kid's faces and see how excited they are to come and be able to watch a game."

Just like many of the mini's that will be scattered around Scotiabank Arena by puck drop at 2 p.m., a young Dermott had a dream of becoming a professional athlete.

Growing up, the 22-year-old juggled two sports, hockey and lacrosse. With a multitude of options of routes to take to fulfill his dream of playing a sport for a living, it wasn't until Dermott was a teenager that he finally decided on which one would become his main passion.

"I knew around 14 that I'd probably have to tell my dad which one I wanted to be certain on," remembered Dermott, who has notched three goals and three assists from the blueline so far this season. "It kind of just fell into the hands of hockey. So I just went with that and then kind of unfolded from there. "

"I remember seeing the love that my dad handed down to me from the love that he grew up with playing hockey as well," he continued, explaining why he decided on hockey. "So I think it was a lot of fun time spent with my dad and I think that probably really set the growing points for me, set the roots for me going forward to really put everything in the one basket and make this the only option I have."

The love for the game of hockey can come from anywhere. For Dermott, it was his dad.

For his teammate, centre Alex Kerfoot, the love for hockey stemmed from spending time with his family and friends.

Kerfoot and his three younger siblings, Colton, Daniel and Soleil, all played minor hockey in their hometown of Vancouver, B.C. His brothers played throughout high school and Colton, who is two years Kerfoot's junior, continued his passion for the sport, travelling south of the border and he currently plays at Harvard University, following the path Alex carved out there.

Some of his fondest memories of hockey as a junior were made in Whistler, were he would go to play on ponds and outdoor rinks during the winter months. He also attended the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver and says watching Team Canada was 'pretty special.'

It was those moments that made Kerfoot, who's scored six goals and six assists this season, realize exactly what he wanted to do.

"I always wanted to be a hockey player when I grew up," said the 25-year-old. "I think that a lot of young boys growing up in Canada, young kids growing up in Canada want to see hockey all the time, and they want to be hockey players. 

"I grew up in a family that played hockey. I had two brothers and a sister and we all played growing up and I was fortunate to grow up with some other hockey players. And I think that's just part of the Canadian culture. You grew up playing and I was just one of those kids who always wanted to play."

During Monday's game in Toronto, perhaps a youngster or two is so excited by what they see that they'll also want to play and try to make their way to the NHL, just like Dermott and Kerfoot did.

And maybe they'll get to skate in a Next Gen Game one day themselves.

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