Kaberle Leafs’ quiet go-to guy

Representing Toronto team at this week’s All-Star Game and hoping for ‘good set-ups and lots of scoring’
January 22, 2007
Paul Hunter
SPORTS REPORTER

In one of his first meetings with the Maple Leaf players, Paul Maurice reviewed the usual catalogue of on-ice strategies. Everything proceeded according to script until the new coach hit upon the subject of the power-play breakout.

“They all looked at me like I had three heads,” Maurice recalled of the unexpectedly awkward moment.

Why even bring it up?

“We give it to him,” the players said, almost in unison, motioning toward defenceman Tomas Kaberle.

“They were serious,” continued Maurice. “It’s the Kaberle breakout. Give it to Tomas, let him bring the puck up-ice and we’ll set it up from there.”

Maurice probably should have known but, as it often is with Kaberle, the Czech blueliner has a check list of skills he performs so consistently well that they tend to either get overlooked or taken for granted.

But it is that very consistency that has Kaberle playing in the All-Star Game at Dallas on Wednesday night, the second time he will appear in the NHL’s mid-season showcase.

There are shortcomings in Kaberle’s game, as with any player. But close your eyes and picture him on the ice, the image is probably not of the 28-year-old failing to tie up an opponent in his own end or passing up a scoring opportunity to dish the puck to a teammate.

It would likely be of Kaberle, elegantly carrying the puck through neutral ice, owning the game for a few moments, controlling its tempo, surveying the ice for the perfect play and, almost always, making it.

“I was probably coached or trained like that since I was a little kid. Do something with the puck; whenever I get the chance I try to do it. It’s my comfort level. That’s the way I always play,” Kaberle said.

“That’s probably my game, if someone would talk about it.”

The last thing Kaberle intended is for that last comment to sound wistful. Since he arrived in Toronto in 1998 as a 20-year-old displaying skills that made a mockery of his 204th overall draft selection, he’s never been accused of self-promotion.

He has never boasted about his own skills in words (“I don’t like to talk about myself,” he said) or in his on-ice actions (“I’m happiest when I make a nice pass for a goal”). And because of that inherent modesty, he often slips under the radar. But you’d get no argument from anyone in the Toronto organization that he is the Leaf player that deserves to be at the All-Star Game.

“As a personality, he’s not a really an outgoing guy,” Maurice said. “His teammates really appreciate his abilities. I also think that most of the defencemen that get the recognition have … played on great defensive teams. I don’t think Toronto has ever had that handle of being a shutdown defensive team.”

“That’s the way I am,” Kaberle said of his reserved nature. “My teammates say I’m a quiet leader. Everybody is different. Other people show (leadership) somewhere else. Hopefully, I can show it on the ice.”

But he does have star status for the week and instead of lamenting the lost opportunity for a rest – Kaberle averages 27 minutes a game and could use a break – he said it will be a honour to be in Dallas representing the Leafs.

“It’s not like anyone is going to say no to the All-Star Game. It’s an honour for everyone,” said Kaberle, sixth in scoring among defencemen with 39 points.

“It’s not like I’ll be playing a real hard game. There won’t be hitting. Hopefully, there’ll be lots of good set-ups and lots of scoring. It’s all about the fans and entertaining. It should be fun.”

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