Woll playing piano

TORONTO -- There was a grand piano in the foyer leading to the elevators at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Thursday, just outside the ballroom where the Toronto Maple Leafs held their Night With the Blue and White Gala.

Anyone who did not look closely at the man sitting at the piano would have thought it was being played by a professional musician. But if you looked again, you would have noticed it was in fact Maple Leafs goalie Joseph Woll.

“Over the past maybe year or two I’ve gotten a lot better in how I play,” Woll said Friday. “It’s really day by day how much I practice. Some weeks I’ll be more interested, I’ll play more and be learning more and then I’ll go a couple weeks without playing, so it’s just something I pick up off and on.”

Woll was not at the piano the whole night, but music is a passion of his and when he saw the grand piano, he could not help himself.

He sat down and flawlessly performed the theme from Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar.

Woll said he has been playing since he was about 10 or 12 years old, soon after his family bought a grand piano. He bashfully admits he is mostly self-taught.

“I took piano lessons for a couple months (when I started playing) but I didn’t really love it,” Woll said. “I really just like playing what I like to play so I just took it for a few months when I was younger, and since then it’s just been something I’ve worked on, on my own as a hobby outside of hockey.”

Music runs in his family, too; Woll’s aunt on his father's side of the family is a musician and teaches music as her career. His great grandmother, he said, could play perfectly by ear, possessing the ability to hear a song and just play it back.

“Maybe I have a little predisposition to it in my blood,” Woll said. “I’m not very well-versed in reading music but I know a lot of music theory and some more simple stuff I can play by ear. If it’s more difficult I have to look up how to play it.”

Woll, 8-5-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in 15 games (13 start) this season, has not played since sustaining a high ankle sprain during a 4-3 win at the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 7.

“The hope is that once we return from the All-Star break that he will be closer to or ready to join our practices,” coach Sheldon Keefe said Wednesday. “I would say though, that him coming back to play after the All-Star break would not be imminent. It would be more so progressing with practices, testing it and progressing from there, so he’s still quite a ways away from games.

As frustrating as it is having to deal with the injury after a strong start to the season, Woll said music provides him with a much-needed creative outlet.

“One thing music is really good at with my life, it’s a good emotional kind of space,” Woll said. “It’s like hockey where I can go and tune out. I also think it’s a great way -- I’m a very creative person -- so it’s a great way to get that creative outlet. One of my favorite things about music is how emotional it can be so it’s a great creative outlet for that in my life.”

Though he realizes he is pretty good at the piano, Woll said he knows it has not come without a lot of effort and practice. That mindset, he said, has helped him a lot when he is between the pipes to keep his nerves under control.

“A thought I’ve had kind of recently," he said, "I practice a lot, I play a lot and when I sit down to play piano, I’m not very nervous because I know I can play well and I know I’ve practiced and that thought process helps me a lot in hockey.

“A lot of times growing up with different things, sometimes you don’t realize how good you are. You’re always trying to improve and improve and improve and always thinking you need to continue to get somewhere, but it’s also nice just realizing, 'Hey I’m pretty good and I can trust myself to just go play, just like I do when I play the piano.' ”

His ability at the piano alone is at a level worthy of a performance at the legendary Massey Hall in Toronto. Given that he plays for the Maple Leafs, if he wanted to play there one day, it likely would sell out. Could there be a performance from Woll down the road as a vehicle to raise money for an important cause?

“That’s my thought,” Woll said. “[I] have some early thoughts about doing something like that. It would be really cool.

“That was actually the big reason I brought back my social media. I was very content with not being on it but I do think if I want to do more music and start sharing more of that with the world, social media is a great outlet for that.”