At the moment it occurred, it was easy to fear the worst. On Thursday night in Colorado, Daniel Winnik collided with Avalanche defenceman Jan Hejda. Winnik landed awkwardly on the ice and needed to be helped off on a stretcher.
“You usually see plays like that and someone laying on the ice you expect a concussion or something. But I’m pretty fortunate,” said Winnik, who remembers the entire incident except for the moment his head hit the ice. “It was a regular play and I just tried to jump by him and my feet got out from under me and I went down hard. It’s a play that happens a lot and it’s just unfortunate how I fell.”
It came as a surprise to the rest of the Leafs when they arrived to the dressing room in the first intermission. There was Winnik, walking around.
“I just told them I’m alright, don’t worry about me, go out and get the win,” he recalled.
After the game concluded, his team still had the same reaction to seeing Winnik without serious injury.
“It was very surprising when you saw him after the game, the night it actually happened, he was walking around as if nothing had happened,” said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. “Our expectations were we were going to be seeing a guy laying in the training room and resting. But he wasn’t that at all. He was very active and he walked to the bus and had no issues.”
Winnik took part in his first full practice since the incident on Tuesday. After following protocol with the doctors, it is his hope to be in the lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the Boston Bruins.
“In the world of sports, the concussion issue is talked about in a bunch of different ways," said Carlyle, regarding Winnik sitting out during the weekend series. “This to us was not something that we had any other way other than what the medical staff and the doctors prescribed. It’s good to see he is skating today. Hopefully he can come back into our lineup. We’ll have an assessment done after the pre-game skate and a decision after the warmup. That’s when the decision will be made.”
After starting the season with a minimal role on the fourth line, Peter Holland is rising up to being a prominent player on the team’s penalty kill while centring the team’s third unit. Holland is coming off points in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. In his first give games, Holland averaged 8:37 in ice time, but it jumped to 17:12 in the last five games.
“The one thing he has improved on is his compete level around the puck,” said Carlyle about Holland, who has clearly won over the coach’s trust.
Originally tried out on the power-play, Holland had a conversation with the coaching staff about switching over to the penalty kill. It’s worked out so far: The Leafs have given up just one goal in their last 15 times shorthanded.
While he moved away from the city at an early age, Trevor Smith was born in Ottawa. So it was a special moment for him to be called up the morning of Leafs-Senstors game on Nov. 9, taking part in the tribute at the War Memorial.
“It kind of makes you think deeper than hockey," Smith said. “It was a lot of emotions that morning and it was good to play that night, too.”
Smith flew out from Dallas to join the Leafs, while the Marlies continued on their bus trip out to Oklahoma City. Last season, Smith was called upon often last season to fill various lines at centre due to the amount of injuries the team suffered in that department. While Smith isn’t sure how long he will stick around this time, he knows he has to make the most out of this opportunity.
“At this point in my career there is no time to be nervous, there’s no time to sit back and have that couple of games period to feel comfortable,” he said. “I just want to try and get in there and show I can play in this league and that I belong in this league.”