Jay Rosehill is one of the Maple Leafs bubble boys.
He sits on the cusp of an NHL career, yet remains one tap on the shoulder from another ticket to hockey purgatory.
He’s 6-foot-3 with a square jaw and knuckles that do not yet show the scars of his intended trade — NHL enforcer in training.
He lacks offensive flair but brings that grit and energy for which general manager Brian Burke often longs. With the playoffs out of sight, Rosehill, along with penalty leader Colton Orr, could be important, giving the home fans something to cheer for in three games this week at the Air Canada Centre.
Like almost every player on the Leafs’ roster, Rosehill is trying to prove that he belongs. Like almost every player, the reviews have been mixed. He won’t back away from a challenge, is strong on the forecheck and a capable pugilist.
“Jay Rosehill is one of those bottom six guys who is going to stick up for his teammates, get into some fights and add some stiffness,” coach Ron Wilson said last September. “You don’t have all skill players and then cry when your teams get punched out. You need guys with backbone, and that’s what Jay Rosehill brings.”
So, after seven years of minor-league stops from Johnstown to the Marlies, he was a surprise Maple Leaf out of training camp. “I never got a chance with Tampa after they drafted me. I was trying to get out of there for a long time,” Rosehill said on Monday.
He thought he saw that chance with the rebuilding Leafs. “When I signed here they told me there would be spots for the taking. With all the changes on the roster (at the Olympic break) there’s an opportunity for guys like me to get in.”
In a rambunctious season opener, he fought with the Montreal Canadiens’ Travis Moen. In his third game, he scored his first NHL goal.
On Nov. 12 the bubble burst. “Maple Leafs announce Jay Rosehill has been assigned to the Toronto Marlies.” The press release was short. No news conference. No phone calls from massed media. Just another transaction along with dozens of others that happen every week.
He has been back and forth ever since.
“I don’t complain about it. It’s a lot better than being down the whole year which has happened a lot before. You just take it as it comes. You don’t get told a lot about what’s going on so the best thing is to just focus on your game. What comes, comes. You have no control.”
Jan. 12 Press Release: “Toronto Maple Leafs recall Jay Rosehill from the Toronto Marlies.”
That was for the rematch with the Flyers and Dan (Cuthroat) Carcillo, who had antagonized the Leafs bench with fake high fives in a 6-2 loss.
“There’s no doubt (being a physical threat) is a big part of my game and the reason I got a shot up here. But a lot of guys up here can do that,” Rosehill said.
He needs to offer more.
If he can be a defensive asset, he might find a place at the back end of the Leafs roster. But not back then.
Feb. 7: Press release: “Toronto Maple Leafs announce Jay Rosehill has been assigned to the Marlies.”
And, so, it came to pass that last weekend he’s in his living room in Toronto watching the Leafs game. “When you’re in my situation you don’t know what will happen one day to the next. Saturday I’m watching TV and see a couple guys go down with injuries, I was thinking (Sunday) would be an off-day; then 20 minutes later the phone rings and I’m on a plane. It’s funny how it works.”
He played nine shifts, almost six minutes and earned a misconduct. “I got the call and right away the nerves start going again; you want to make an impression and stay for the rest of the year,” he said.
So, third-time lucky? “They don’t tell you anything. I’m always in the dark,” he said. “I’m here until they tell me differently.”
In the quest for fame and fortune sometimes insecurity is the price demanded.