TORONTO – When the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season ended with 12 losses in 14 games and without a playoff berth, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, James Reimer and Morgan Rielly flew 14,000 kilometres away to escape their troubles.
Actually, they flew to Minsk, Belarus, to play at the world hockey championship. Canada (Kadri, Rielly and Reimer) and the United States (Gardiner) both lost in the quarter-finals, but players benefited from the game action.
“It’s pretty long but it’s a great experience,” Gardiner said. “Naz went over there, Mo and Reims. I’m glad we got the chance to do that.”
Reimer found some value in continuing to play into the spring while the Stanley Cup playoffs were ongoing.
“I know talking to other guys who have done it, when you go for those long runs in the playoffs, you have some experience playing some meaningful games or pressure games later in the summer,” he said.
Reimer added with a wry grin: “It’s great to get that experience so that when we go on our long Cup run, we’ll be ready.”
Reimer, who helped carry the Leafs into the playoffs in 2013 and whose struggles contributed to the season-defining slide last spring, split the duties for Canada with former Toronto teammate Ben Scrivens and got to build some confidence back up.
“It’s a little more relaxed,” the 26-year-old said. “You’re kind of getting away from the pressures of the NHL, per se, and you’re playing for your country having fun.”
Rielly saw limited minutes but got some power-play duty. It’s a role he could continue to blossom into in his second season in Toronto.
Kadri skated on Canada’s second line with Cody Hodgson and Troy Brouwer. As he tries to become a better all-around centre in the NHL, it didn’t hurt to learn a thing or two from coach Dave Tippett.
“We had some conversations. Obviously he’s a great coach and his resume says so,” Kadri said. “I had a lot to learn, and by all means do I have everything figured out? I don’t. I’ve still got a lot to learn and I’m still 23 years old and that is really what I want to add to my game: Becoming the whole package and being able to play in all three zones.”
Under new Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette, Gardiner played almost 18 minutes a game with the U.S. As he continues to grow at 25, it was a test facing elite international competition.
For Reimer, the benefit stretched beyond the games.
“Just with all those guys there, they’re all great players, they’re all great shooters and to get that practice every day with those guys it really brings your game up,” Reimer said.
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