It was May 2010, high school district baseball finals. For a grade nine like myself at the time, it was one of the more nerve wracking things I could've been apart of. There I stood, shaking at the knees against this larger than life figure on the mound, who at that point, had no hit our "bad news bears" Bradford Bucs through five innings with 13 strikeouts. Who was this mysterious man staring me down? None other than future Toronto Maple Leaf Josh Leivo.
Maybe it was respect from him making me whiff on three pitches, or the fact that I saw him as a completely different athlete than most of Leafs Nation, but I've had soft spot for Leivo ever since. It hurt, all of last year, watching him rot away in the press box while guys like Leo Komarov and Matt Martin were getting consistent playing time. I was grabbing my torch and pitch fork every time someone wanted to tell me he had no role on this year's team, and that Josh Jooris, Trevor Moore, and Carl Grundstrom were all ahead of him on the depth chart (lol).
Despite all the chatter about not having a spot, and not having the support of his head coach, Josh just put his head down and grinded his way onto the opening night roster and never looked back. A man on a mission this season, Leivo looked better than he ever has before. You needed grit? He'd mix things up with a guy like Danny Dekeyser. You needed a goal? He'd have that fourth line firing it up better than any fourth line could in the NHL. First powerplay unit didn't get it done? You know he's out there outworking the other teams kill.
The numbers didn't really wow you like most players on the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they didn't have to. I know "the eye test" isn't really a thing for anyone who writes or talks about hockey for a living, but for me, Josh Leivo passed the eye test with flying colours. He managed to embrace a fourth line role that he wouldn't have had to play on most other NHL teams. He went from being solely a powerplay specialist to a gritty fourth line sniper over the course of a summer.
Usually a rather timid player in his NHL career, Josh Leivo used all of his 6'2 nearly 200 pound frame in this incredible start for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Every time he stepped on the ice he was mixing it up in the corners, doing his best to free up the puck. Whenever he did, he put possession back in the offensive end for the juggernaut that is the rest of the Leafs offence. It was a pleasure to watch him will his way back onto the ice night in and night out.
But all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately, that's exactly what happened here. With the December 3rd trade to Vancouver, Josh Leivo's roller coaster ride with the Toronto Maple Leafs has finally finished. Do I agree with the trade? Absolutely not. There's many other options that I thought made more sense from a team success standpoint; however, do I respect that Kyle Dubas had the honour to keep the promise he made to Josh that said he'd trade him if his role was ever in question? Absolutely. I'll never understand why this wasn't a player that fit into the style of play that Mike Babcock wanted, but that's okay, I don't have to.
Josh, I know it could end up being really hard for you in June if the Leafs can pull off a miracle and win your hometown team a Stanley Cup. And I know you'll be sitting at home wishing things could've went a little differently. Look on the bright side, Vancouver may be struggling to find an identity right now, but look at the pieces in your future. Elias Petterson and Brock Boeser are two of the filthiest young stars in the game, and if game one is any indication, you'll have them as your linemates for quite some time. There's young guys like Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen coming into their own, solid D men like Chris Tanev and Alex Edler manning the back end, and obviously you there to round everything out.
So yes, it sucks to miss out on a chance to win with this incredible team alongside some longtime teammates, but keep your head up kid, cause the future looks bright for your new squad. No matter what happens, you can continue to prove Babcock wrong, and as a fellow Simcoe County resident, you'll always have at least one fan back at home rooting for you.