Gardiner leads Leafs to win

Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner celebrates a goal against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena in...

Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner celebrates a goal against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich., Sep. 30, 2011. (GREGORY SHAMUS/Getty Images/AFP)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:41 AM ET

DETROIT - When the scoresheets were handed out to the media in the first intermission of the Maple Leafs exhibition tilt against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, there was something strangely amiss.

At the time, the Leafs were up 1-0 on an even-strength goal by young defenceman Jake Gardiner, easily the player who has created the most buzz at Toronto’s training camp.

That being the case, how was it possible that Gardiner, having scored for the first time as a Leaf, was not credited as being plus-1 in the plus-minus category?

Did the dude keeping the stats somehow miss him?

If so, he was the only one in Joe Louis who did.

Indeed, Gardiner’s riveting performance in the Maple Leafs 4-3 overtime victory over the Red Wings made it virtually impossible for those in the antiquated arena along the shores of the murky Detroit River to take their eyes off of him.

Especially those scouts who were sitting in the press box high up in the arena rafters.

Admittedly, Gardiner and his veteran defence partner, Mike Komisarek, did not look too good on Detroit’s third goal, scored by Johan (The Mule) Franzen.

But that still was not enough to tarnish Gardiner’s body of work on this particular night, one that included a goal, an assist, and an outstanding exhibition of skating.

Let’s face it. Not many NHL players can keep up with Wings superstar Henrik Zetterberg when he turns on the jets.

Gardiner did.

And it was noticed.

Big time.

“He’s got really good skill,” said an Eastern Conference scout whose team will face off against the Leafs during the first two weeks of the regular season.

“What’s more, he looks really comfortable out there. He doesn’t seem to get rattled. That’s a pretty good Detroit Red Wings team they are icing down there, and (Gardiner) doesn’t seem to be phased by them in the least. It’s a pretty high paced game and he looks right at home.

“He moves the puck very well. But it’s more than that. He does little things with the puck that you have to look closely at to see.”

Gardiner is expected to be in the lineup again on Saturday when the two teams meet again, this time at the Air Canada Centre. In the end, it might be the final piece of evidence that convinces the Leafs hierarchy to keep him for the start of the regular season.

“I’m trying to make it tough on them,” Gardiner said. “It was fun out there. The Wings are a fast team and they don’t give you a lot of room.

“I felt good.”

While Gardiner and gritty forward Mike Brown arguably were the best Maple Leafs on the ice, Komisarek had his ups and downs.

Yes, the veteran has enjoyed a good training camp and appears quicker. But at times, the high pace of the game appears to give him trouble, leading to penalties like the holding and hooking minors he took in the second period.

But the veteran made up for it in the end, scoring the winning goal with less than three minutes left in overtime.

Afterward, he raved about the performance of Gardiner.

“He’s pretty to watch,” Komisarek said. “He has so much poise out there. And when he comes to the rink every day, he wants to learn.

“He’s going to be a good player for a long time.”

With the Detroit Tigers playing the opening game of their American League divisional playoff series against the New York Yankees on Friday night, many avid sports fans in Motown opted to stay at home and watch the ball game on the tube rather than coming to The Joe to see exhibition hockey.

That left the building stuffed with even more Toronto fans than usual. In fact, at certain times in the game, the loud chants of “Go Leafs Go” made it seem like it was a Toronto home game at the Air Canada Centre.

And on this night, no one seemed more at home at The Joe than Jake Gardiner.


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