Few, if any, can lay claim to experiencing what Travis Dermott did in the spring of 2018.
Within a matter of weeks, the Toronto defenceman had not just one but the two greatest professional hockey seasons of his 21 years culminate in bittersweet Game 7s.
First came the Maple Leafs‚Äô blow up in Boston, in which the puck-pushing visitors seized three separate leads and still fumbled away their Round 1 elimination game 7-4. Dermott scored his first-ever playoff goal in that game, a beautiful single-effort play that involved winning a battle at the blue line after having his initial attempt blocked, kicking the puck to his blade and ripping a wrister through traffic and past Tuukka Rask.
At the time, it knotted the game at three and set the stage for Kasperi Kapanen‚Äôs second-period go-ahead goal. Boston‚Äôs four unanswered goals in the third, however, made it all moot. For all of Toronto‚Äôs defensive gaffes in that one, Dermott actually finished plus-1 but was only used 11 minutes and 20 seconds.
Seven weeks later came the AHL Marlies‚Äô run to the city‚Äôs first pro hockey championship in 51 years. Once the Leafs cleaned out their lockers, Dermott was loaned back to the farm team for the playoff push, but a nagging injury prevented the top-pair from dressing for championship Game 7 versus the Texas Stars.
Opting not to participate in the biggest game of his life, Dermott says, was the most difficult decision of his career. A decisive 6-1 victory, however, quickly eased his mind.
‚ÄúIt was tough. You go into that with the little injury that I had and you‚Äôre kinda thinking, ‚ÄėIf I wanted to gut it out, I could.‚Äô But I didn‚Äôt know if I trusted myself with how much I could handle,‚ÄĚ Dermott says.
‚ÄúSo I put all the reins in [Andrew] Nielsen‚Äôs hands, and he did good. He helped the boys out in Game 7, and they pulled through seamlessly ‚ÄĒ as you could see by the score. It was a tough decision to make, but once the boys got up a couple, it was like, ‚ÄėAll right, that was the right choice.‚Äô Especially when you‚Äôre raising the Cup, you realize, yeah, you miss out on one game, but it‚Äôs worth it. If we‚Äôd lost and I didn‚Äôt play that much, I would‚Äôve felt pretty guilty.‚ÄĚ
Dermott threw on a sweater, slapped on a winner‚Äôs cap, stepped on the ice to party with his pals, looked at a camera and delivered the best celebratory quote of the night. Watch, please:
Three days after the champagne dried was Father‚Äôs Day, so Dermott stole a few hours with the Cup ‚Äúfor my dad,‚ÄĚ the first person he reached out to on that cold January day he discovered he‚Äôd made the show.
Then Dermott and his girlfriend jetted to Mexico for a couples getaway with Cup-winning goal-scorer Mason Marchmant and his better half. ‚ÄúIt was warm there by the time we were done playoffs here,‚ÄĚ Dermott smiles. Also: He always smiles.
The nimble, offensive-minded defenceman was at his parents‚Äô home on July 1. Not unlike the rest of Leafs Nation, he was magnetized to his smartphone, monitoring the John Tavares sweepstakes.
‚ÄúI got four notifications right away from Sportsnet apps or whatever. I was like, ‚ÄėWow!‚Äô I don‚Äôt think many people expected it, but it‚Äôs a great addition, obviously,‚ÄĚ says Dermott, who‚Äôs faced Tavares twice and is hoping never again. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs such a great captain.‚ÄĚ
The installation of the Tavares wooer, 32-year-old Kyle Dubas, as Maple Leafs GM draws an even more enthusiastic response from the young player. Championships ‚ÄĒ yes, farm-level ones ‚ÄĒ bind.
‚ÄúOh, it‚Äôs awesome. That guy‚Äôs been great to me the whole time I‚Äôve been with the Leafs organization,‚ÄĚ Dermott says. ‚ÄúHe cares more on a personal side than I‚Äôve seen before with a GM. He really cares about you as a person and your relationships and your life ‚ÄĒ all that before hockey.
‚ÄúHockey comes second to him. He cares about you as a person first, and that‚Äôs great to see. That‚Äôs a guy you can relate to more than anyone else, really‚ÄĒa guy that cares about you genuinely, not just what you bring to the team. Having him around will be great for the team. And just for myself, having him around, there‚Äôll be a comfort level. I‚Äôm used to having him around. He‚Äôs an easy guy to talk to.‚ÄĚ
Travis Dermott is a Calder Cup Champion pic.twitter.com/6DP1CXOm6O
‚ÄĒ Flintor (@TheFlintor) June 15, 2018
The Leafs have been careful with their 2015 34th-overall pick. Coach Mike Babcock likes his prospects to arrive ‚Äúoverripe‚ÄĚ so they stick. So despite Dermott‚Äôs impressive performance during 2017‚Äôs preseason, he needed to wait another half-season to break through. Once called up, however, his fixture in the lineup looked undeniable. Despite hopping into the league mid-stream, the rookie put up 13 points in 37 games, and his possession metrics (54.5% Corsi at even-strength) made the reddit boards drool.
‚ÄúI was really impressed with Dermy in training camp,‚ÄĚ says ex-Leaf Dominic Moore, who invited Dermott to his Smashfest event earlier this month. ‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt really know much about him, but once I saw him, man, he‚Äôs really agile and plays a pretty aggressive style for a D-men.
‚ÄúHe had some growing pains at times, as you would expect from any defenceman, but he‚Äôs a great athlete, and he‚Äôll continue to get better. He‚Äôs a really good player, and he‚Äôs got a great attitude in terms of he wants to be a difference-maker.‚ÄĚ
In order to become that, however, the left-shot Dermott must take a couple minutes from a 2017-18 top-four workhorse like Jake Gardiner ‚ÄĒ who topped all Toronto D-men in ice time (22:32) and is one of the few core Leafs signed before the Shanaplan ‚ÄĒ or play more shifts on the right side.
Despite his knack for the net, Dermott averaged just 35 seconds of power-play time per night, although it‚Äôs difficult to make a case against Morgan Rielly and Gardiner since each are coming off career 52-point seasons.
Entering the fray this September will be righty prospect Justin Holl. The late-blooming 26-year-old shone in the Marlies run and scores in every NHL game he plays. With trusted veteran Roman Polak signing in Dallas, it says here that Holl is about to battle Connor Carrick for the right side on the third pairing.
‚ÄúCan Holl crack the roster this fall?‚ÄĚ we ask Dermott.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm not the guy that makes that decision, but I‚Äôve played with him a fair amount. I know he‚Äôs an unreal defenceman, very skilled. He‚Äôs very determined to get where he wants to get in life. He‚Äôs a real smart guy,‚ÄĚ Dermott replies.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd hang out with him even if he didn‚Äôt know what hockey was. He‚Äôs just that kinda guy you want to be around. He makes you feel better about yourself. In a hockey aspect, he‚Äôs a guy you want on your team. When the time matters, he‚Äôs the best he can be. He‚Äôs someone I‚Äôd want on my team. Going forward, we‚Äôll see what spots are available, but I‚Äôve love to have him.‚ÄĚ
Healthy, refreshed and enthused by what‚Äôs to come, Dermott is back training daily at MasterCard Centre, the club‚Äôs practice facility, pushing himself toward his first full season in the bigs.
‚ÄúJust getting back into the groove of things,‚ÄĚ he smiles. ‚ÄúTrying to get better each day.‚ÄĚ