The questions came, one after another from the gathered media, just as they had from family, friends and fans to members of the Toronto Maple Leafs and their staff ever since Game 7.
What on earth happened?
Based on his reaction in Thursday’s season-ending press conference, Leafs GM Dave Nonis appears to have heard them enough.
Yes, they lost in disastrous fashion, he admitted. Yes, it was ugly. But, he said, it doesn’t change how he will look back at the season or how his team will move forward with an eye to next year.
“What happened was disappointing,” Nonis said. “But we play that game 100 times, I don’t think it happens again…
“I really don’t think we have to do anything differently because it’s one of those things in sports that you’ll see it once in a lifetime. We’re part of it and that’s unfortunate. I think we’re going to have to deal with the pain for a while but our players are going to focus on next season once they’re done with their two weeks or three weeks of rest and relaxation. It’s important that we get them focused.”
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle added that he had already spoken to the team about their collapse – an 11-minute stretch in which his team blew a three-goal lead in the third period of Game 7 as part of a 5-4 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins – and told them that they’ll be able to move on.
“The only thing that I said to them is that it’ll take some time,” Carlyle said. “Time will heal this, but we can never forget it… I’m sure [the media] will be bringing this up on a regular basis when we start next year. How can you ignore it? You can’t. It’s the reality...
“The feeling is frustration. It’s lack of accomplishment. At times you feel you were hit between the eyes with a hammer. And you’re walking around here in the couple days after the event, the season and last game, it’s pretty tough on everybody.”
“I mean it stings,” winger James van Riemsdyk said. “So you look for stuff going into the summer to try to maybe keep in the back of your mind and maybe push you through some of those workouts. I’m sure that’s something that a lot of guys will be thinking about going into their summer.”
In addition to some reflection on the way their season ended, players were also able to provide some updates on the injuries they suffered in the playoffs on Thursday.
Leafs defenceman Mark Fraser met with the media for the first time since suffering a skull fracture in Game 4 when a puck went off his forehead, and he was sporting a huge lump covered in stitches.
The puck damaged his skull to the extent that it created a frightening situation on the ice, but Fraser said he was thankful he didn’t suffer any brain damage or even a concussion from the blow.
“As soon as there was a realization that it wasn’t just a cut and there was bone damage, I saw [the medical staff’s] reaction to it and the doctors’ uncertainty, it was a little scary,” Fraser said. “But there was just constant reassurance I was in great hands and clearly I was because I’m feeling a lot better.”
Centre Tyler Bozak, meanwhile, spoke about how he tore his triceps muscle on the last faceoff in Game 5, an injury that he knew immediately was bad but that the coaching staff tried to conceal by having him take the pregame skate in Game 6.
He wasn’t able to play the final two games of the series and spent Game 7 nervously watching at home in Toronto.
“I knew after Game 5 I was done for four weeks,” Bozak said. “It was a pretty bad tear… I could barely hold my stick out there.”
No other Leafs were revealed to be playing through injury, however, with captain Dion Phaneuf – who struggled in the series – saying he was “fine” and that most players played through minor hurts during the postseason.
“I think everyone has bumps and bruises,” he said.
Beyond Fraser and Bozak, the main damage to the Leafs appeared to be to their psyches, as several players were having a tough time discussing the devastating loss.
Netminder James Reimer, for one, admitted he didn’t sleep after Game 7 and was recalling in vivid detail how the last few goals had beaten him.
“All of the sudden the puck just went flying over there, right on his tape, and it’s just like that’s it, your season’s done,” Reimer said. “There’s not tomorrow. There’s not the next day. There’s not the get them next time. It’s just done. It’s an empty feeling.”
Others chose not to speak with the media at all on Thursday, a group that included alternate captain Joffrey Lupul, who tweeted earlier this week that “That hockey game will haunt me until the day I die...”
Nonis, however, hopes it’s not something that affects this group nearly that long.
“We have to find a way of flushing that memory out of our system because if we dwell on that for the next three months we’re not going to be prepared for October,” Nonis said.