CAMPBELLVILLE, ONT. - Maybe it has been watching his former teammate and friend Tomas Kaberle landing himself just one win away from being a Stanley Cup champion.
Perhaps it’s the catcalls on the streets of Toronto, joking or not, that make Luke Schenn wonder how a 21-year-old could have even the most remote connection to 1967.
Or maybe after three full seasons in the NHL, the hunger to be a part of one of the most demanding tournaments in all of sport is exploding within the team’s cornerstone defenceman.
Whatever it is, Schenn made it clear on Tuesday that he is tired of being on the outside looking in as the league is finally poised to crown a champion two months after his own season ended.
“Right now we have the youngest team in the league and things are looking up,” Schenn said at Mohawk Racetrack where he assisted with the draw for harness racing’s own big cup, the $1.5-million North America Cup, which takes place Saturday night.
“I know people are hungry and anxious and waiting for us to do well. So are we. We’re sick of watching the playoffs too,” Schenn said.
While 10 of the top 3-year-old pacers are here preparing for the richest race in the sport, Schenn will be intensely focused on Wednesday’s Game 7 between Kaberle’s Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.
In keeping with the track theme, Schenn doesn’t have a horse in Wednesday’s big game, but admits he will be pulling for Kaberle even through the pain of backing a divisional rival.
“I played with Tomas for 2 1/2 years and was his partner for a couple of those,” Schenn said. “He’s an older guy, an all-star in this league and he was great for me and my development. Sometimes if I’d find myself in trouble, I’d just get the puck to him and he’d get it out of the zone.
“Tomas is a great guy and has a lot of respect around Toronto. He deserved it. He played for 12 years here and I was lucky enough to play with him and that’s why I’m cheering for him.”
Schenn has grudgingly been in full off-season mode for a while now, sticking around Toronto for a little longer than usual.
Part of the reason is to get some quality time in with the Leafs’ strength and conditioning coach Anthony Belza. The other is to hang around with brother Brayden, who is training with former Leaf and fitness guru Gary Roberts, a suggestion the Los Angeles Kings made to enhance the younger Schenn’s progress.
He’ll get back home to Saskatchewan soon to visit family and friends before embarking on what he expects will be the trip of a lifetime. For a couple seasons now, the team’s “Luke’s Troops” promotion has honoured a member of the Canadian military at each home game and now Schenn is being recognized and will visit Afghanistan in late June with military personnel.
As for hockey, even though the Cup was still a day away from being awarded, Schenn is looking ahead.
“I think now (the young Leafs) have a better understanding of what it takes to win, because down the stretch we were fighting for a playoff spot and playing some pretty good teams every night and beating them,” Schenn said.
“We all got the taste of what it’s like in Toronto when fighting for a playoff spot. When we do get in, we know it’s going to be that much better. Hopefully every one remembers that feeling and what it’s like.”
And maybe then, there will be a change in the tone of those unsolicited comments on the street.
“I know we take a ton of heat,” Schenn said. “I must hear it five times a day walking around Toronto: ‘Hey, the Leafs haven’t won the Cup since ’67.’
“But that’s 30 or 40 years before I was born.”