He glided down the ice, not showing any sort of intimidation despite the fact he was a little out of his element.Â Like a veteran, he flew down the wing and fired a shot that eluded the goaltender.Â It was his first NHL goal.Â It was his first NHL game.
He skated through the neutral zone, accepting a stretch pass, only to be met by a member of the opposition, whoâ€™s eyes were as big as saucers, knowing he was going to catch him.Â He was leveled, sent for a trip down dream street.Â A hit that caused a nasty gash to open up over his eye, blood streamed out of his nose.Â It was his 425th NHL game.
All 425, as a member of his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Matt Stajan was absolutely hammered last night by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk.Â This was definitely the most devastating hit he had ever received, but it certainly wasnâ€™t the first.Â In fact, Stajan, if you do a quick memory scan (or YouTube search) will tell you he has been hit large more than a few times in his career.Â Most fans would even point out his inability to stay on his feet as a knock against him.
But you know, there is one thing about those hits, particularly the one that was delivered last night in the third period of the Leafs/Bruins game.
Matt Stajan didnâ€™t just get hit.Â Matt Stajan got hit, and as he did many times before, Matt Stajan got up.
He went briefly to the dressing room for repairs, but was back on the bench within three minutes, and was even out on the ice playing just seconds later, and despite the injuries, not showing any intimidation whatsoever.Â He even mixed it up along the boards in the third periodâ€™s final minutes.
He has some shortcomings no question.Â Is he a first line centre?Â No, probably not.Â But itâ€™s also not his fault he has been cast as one in the absence of a bona-fide first liner.Â Is he the best skater?Â No, he gets by, but he doesnâ€™t really blaze past anyone.Â Is he the toughest guy on his skates?Â No, he does get knocked down a lot, and takes a lot of hits.
But make no mistake.Â In spite of those things mentioned above, there is one category he doesnâ€™t have any shortcomings in.
Matt Stajan gets it.Â Itâ€™s as simple as that.
Not the most talented player, but Stajan will try as hard as he can every night, something that canâ€™t always be said about everyone on this team.
Though he may not be as talented as others on the team, his offense is also underrated by many in the media.Â Stajan scored 55 points last year, and looks on pace to top those totals once again.Â In fact, for the most part, his offense has gotten better with each passing years,Â establishing new career totals every season but one since entering the NHL.
But itâ€™s other things as well.Â Itâ€™s things like commitment to the game plan, and commitment to buying into the system and being a member of a team.Â Remember a few years back, before the Brian Burke Truculence era, the Maple Leafs had a few pretty soft teams.Â They were, night after night, being pushed around and beaten down on a nightly basis.
It was a regular occurrence, and it was happening again one night against Florida when Stajan, of all people, took matters into his own hands, dropping the gloves with Panthers defenseman Ruslan Salei.
Stajan didnâ€™t exactly win the fight, nor did Salei fight as hard as he could have no doubt, but Stajan deserved, and received, full marks from teammates and fans for fighting on a team and in a game when no one else would.
And who can forget this penalty kill, where Matt Stajan put his body on the line in the sake of protecting a one goal lead, getting in the lane of three Buffalo Sabres shots and going down for the blocks.
And let us not forgot the things we as fans and media never really see.Â The things done off the ice.
Every member of the Toronto Maple Leafs (and every NHL team for that matter) makes significant charitable donations, but one could argue that Stajan is one of those players who goes that extra mile.
He and his girlfriend are largely responsible for the planning of the Maple Leafs Pink Ribbon night, and Stajan plays an active role in many Toronto area charities.
He is also the Maple Leafs NHLPA Player Representative.
A young kid, born and raised near Toronto, cheering his heart our as a kid every Saturday night for his favourite team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.Â He has grown up to become a fine young man, the kind of person who works hard every night, and does the little things that quietly make your team better on the ice, and better off the ice.
He is one person who you can talk to and truly hear in his voice, that he knows the honour and privilege it is to wear the blue and white Maple Leaf.Â Once he pulls that historic sweater over his head, he is willing to do anything in battle for his team, and his teammates, all in the common goal of getting the W.
And you want to trade this guy?