You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
That was the situation facing the many new faces in the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup Wednesday night as they played their first pre-season game against the Boston Bruins, a 3-2 loss to the visitors.
The best first impression was made by rookie Tyler Bozak who, shorthanded, slipped past defenceman Matt Hunwick before roofing the puck past goalie Dany Sabourin for the game’s first goal.
Bozak also drew the first penalty of the game on an earlier breakaway. That time, Hunwick was forced to take Bozak down with a slash.
“A lot of our young, I thought, played really well,” said coach Ron Wilson. “On defence, I loved [Francois] Beauchemin and I liked what Garnet Exelby did. Obviously Bozak had a good game and so did Nazem [Kadri].
“That’s why I tried to get [Kadri] a few more offensive guys in the second half. In general, the guys who played in the rookie camp, I thought, did pretty well and a couple of defencemen did as well.”
Bozak wasn’t alone in ingratiating himself with the Leafs faithful.
Just seconds into the contest Exelby hit Blake Wheeler into the boards in the Leafs zone and went hunting for Wheeler again later in the period, exemplifying the size and grit he adds to the roster.
Moments later Colton Orr nailed Adam McQuaid into the end boards in the offensive zone, marking his first shift with the toughness and hard forecheck he brings to the team.
Next, newcomer Jay Rosehill had the bout of the night, landing a number of punches on Bruins forward Byron Bitz before taking him down to the ice after a long, spirited tussle.
Late in the second period, a trio of fresh faces combined for the Leafs second goal of the night. On the power play, Viktor Stalberg slipped the puck past Sabourin from the side of the net with assists going to Beauchemin and 2009 first-round pick Kadri.
The announcement of Kadri’s assist garnered a louder-than-normal cheer from the hometown crowd and brought some out of their seats for the 18-year-old rookie.
Beauchemin, one of the Leafs most notable summer signings, finished with two assists in a strong showing from the point. He also wore an assistant captain’s A for the game.
Bozak was named the player of the game by the Toronto fan that had the privilege of making that decision. An even better distinction came later from Wilson who said that Bozak’s line was the best on the night.