“Auston Matthews, welcome to the NHL (@NHL)!”
We’ve all done it; we’ve all dreamt about what it would be like if we actually made it to the biggest stages in sport. Would we crush a home run on a 100mph fastball? Would we secure a diving catch in the endzone in front of the roaring crowd? Or would we knock down the buzzer-beater against all odds? Regardless of the dream, it is likely to be overshadowed by reality, even if you are lucky enough to make it as a professional. But sometimes, your wildest dreams just aren’t enough; sometimes the reality is far greater, just like Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) fans witnessed last night.
To preface this, we know that it’s just one game. We know that 60+ minutes does not a career make. But if ever there was a game to celebrate, it was Auston Matthews’ (@AM34) debut for the Leafs last night. Let’s face it, Leafs fans would have been happy with one goal, which Matthews provided on the first shot of his NHL tenure, but the 2016 first overall pick didn’t stop there. Matthews went on to light the lamp an historic four times in his first game. Four goals. No other player in NHL history has had this type of debut; not even last year’s highly-touted top draft pick Connor McDavid (@cmcdavid97), who said in his post-game interview last night that he barely even touched the puck four times in his first game!
No matter how much we looked ahead to last night and built it up in our heads, James Duthie (@tsnjamesduthie) said it best in that “there was almost not enough hype.” This says a great deal given the hyperbolic nature of hockey fans in Toronto, and even though we got a taste of what Matthews could do in the World Cup of Hockey (#WCH2016), no one could have imagined this.
Matthews impressed himself, saying that he still can’t believe what’s going on; his coach Mike Babcock, who said that this was the best night he’s had with the Maple Leafs; his parents, who made the trek from Arizona to cheer on their son in person; and, of course, the entire hockey community. Some of the best moments of Matthews’ debut, in fact, were seen online, in the form of current and former NHLers, celebrities, and fans chiming in on Twitter:
@strombone1: I’ve just decided that Reims will play ALL of the games versus the leafs this year…… #Matthews
@Frazermclaren68: What’s the big deal I scored 4 goals…..In my career. #matthews #bust
@GSparks40: I feel like I’m watching one of the 99 overall created player’s I used to make in NHL 2002
@MGaborik12: Since the start of this game I didnt even have a chance to drink 4 beers and hes got 4 goals #Matthews
We’re confident that these jaw-dropping reactions won’t be the only such comments during the 19-year old’s career, but they may be the most memorable. After all, he’s the first Leafs player to tally a four-goal game since Mats Sundin and the first Leafs rookie to score four goals since Wendel Clark (@wendelclark17). When you’re mentioned with the likes of these franchise players, you know you’re on to something big, and this is a team that, perhaps more than the rest, needs something big.
Matthews, along with the solid, albeit greatly overshadowed, performances of Mitch Marner (@Marner93), William Nylander (@wmnylander), and company, is bringing to Toronto what we haven’t seen in years – hope. The rebuild is coming together, the pieces are falling into place, and the team may have the first bit of positive momentum they’ve had in years. And when you can bring a smile to the typically stone-faced Brendan Shanahan (@brendanshanahan), you know you’re doing something right.
So was this the best debut in the history of the sport? Probably. Was it the most successful first outing across any sport? Perhaps. But for the Maple Leafs, this rookie sensation and his incredible performance means so much more than just this one game. And as Leafs fans look to make their way back down from Cloud 9 after last night, all we can do is look forward to Saturday night and beyond to see what the Leafs’ new prized-possession will do for an encore!