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Welcome To The Club, Luke

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Video: Luke Schenn Interview

There are four different stages of being a Maple Leaf.

The first happens when you are drafted. That’s first base.

The second occurs when you make the team and play your first game.

Your first NHL goal is the equivalent of third base. Stage three.

But you know you are absolutely, irrevocably a Maple Leaf the moment you hear your name mentioned for the first time in a blockbuster trade rumour.

Welcome to the club, Luke Schenn.

The 20-year-old Schenn was in Toronto, Wednesday to participate in an apparel company promotion along with Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay’s bourgeoning star Steve Stamkos.

His first questions dealt with a story that pinned Schenn as part of the price the Leafs would need to pay for Tampa’s second overall draft choice.

The rumour prompted a call from Leafs GM Brian Burke to Schenn.

“He said I was part of things moving forward and I was happy to hear that,” said Schenn. “That’s all I needed to hear.”

This is not to say that Schenn did not gulp, just a bit, when Burke called his cell. Stamkos, his teammate at the World Hockey Championships, had called just a moment before, bluffing that his general manager, Brian Lawton,  had asked for a character reference on Schenn. When the caller identified himself as Burke, Schenn remembered that the Leafs GM had never called before.

That Schenn’s name has emerged as the key one in Burke’s ongoing crusade to move up in the draft speaks to his solid rookie season. At one point, Stamkos referred to Schenn as "The Human Eraser", an apt enough moniker for a player who has put nearly all his effort into the defensive game. Schenn’s rookie season brought two goals and 14 points. While his plus-minus was an ungainly minus 12, Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson used him in every situation imaginable and routinely deployed him to handle the most dangerous offensive players.

Schenn is closer to untouchable than any Leaf. The Leafs feel they are just a couple of seasons away from a 26-minute a night, 230-pound force with enough offensive instincts to hit double figures in goals.

There remains, of course, some distance to go. Draftmate Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings enjoyed an outstanding tournament while coach Lindy Ruff deployed Schenn sparingly. He played just under seven minutes a game in the tournament.

Schenn wasn’t complaining. When you play for Team Canada, he said, you do whatever is asked, even if you are asked to not play.

“You’d love to be on the ice, that’s just part of being a competitive person.” he said. “It’s a totally different thing, when you get a chance to represent Team Canada. Whatever you do for Team Canada is the part you play. You don’t complain. You are trying to win.”

Schenn said he was overwhelmed by the experience and felt he grew enormously during the three weeks in Switzerland. Canada lost to Russia in the finals.

“It’s obviously a goal to win the gold but it’s great to play with some of the top NHL players and guys like Dany Heatley and Shane Doan and Martin St. Louis,” he said. “You’re still part of the team. If you had told me at the beginning of the year I would have been at the World Championships, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Now he is the subject of what promises to be one of the longest running rumours in hockey. Trade rumours are like apples put in a barrel for bobbing. Once the apple pops to the surface, it’s difficult to keep it under the surface.

He has grown attached to the city. As his flight from Switzerland banked and he saw the city again, Schenn allowed himself for the first time to marvel at the season past.

“Toronto feels like home now. I saw Air Canada Centre and thought, ‘it’s pretty cool, you play in that rink.’ It feels a lot more welcoming, a lot more comfortable.”

At 20, Luke Schenn insists he isn’t worried about being traded out of the city.

“You really can’t let it bother you,” said the Leafs grand old man of the blueline. “Rumours are just rumours.”
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