All in his kids' names for Maple Leafs captain John Tavares

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For someone who abides by a strict regimen on game day, Maple Leafs captain John Tavares was fine with adding a new wrinkle once he became a father.

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Writing his three kids’ names — sons Jace and Axton and daughter Rae — on tape near the top of his sticks has become part of the routine for Tavares.

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“Just naturally happened,” Tavares said. “When Jace was born (in September 2019), I felt like I wanted to do something.

“It was something I wanted to do daily in preparation. Any time I get my sticks ready, it was a moment to do that. Now that I’m a dad, you want to take those moments to really appreciate what life’s all about and how much more meaning there is to it because of that. That’s how it got started.”

Before the Leafs played host to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena, Tavares’ wife Aryne and children, as well as his parents Joe and Barbara, were on hand for a ceremony in recognition of Tavares reaching 1,000 points in his National Hockey League career.

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Darryl Sittler presented Tavares with a gold stick, and had mini gold sticks for his children. The Leafs gave Tavares a painting and donated $25,000 to the John Tavares Foundation. 

Tavares notched his milestone point in the Leafs’ 4-3 overtime loss in New York against the Islanders last Monday, getting an assist on the tying goal by Morgan Rielly late in regulation. In doing so, Tavares became the 98th player in NHL history to record 1,000 points.

Aryne and the boys also were at the rink in the morning when Tavares did his media availability. Leafs players were wearing t-shirts commemorating the milestone.

“It’s really special to have my family be a part of a milestone like this, means the world,” Tavares said. “So much (goes on) behind the scenes throughout the course of my career, and my life really, from my parents, my siblings, now my wife, my three kids, everything they sacrifice and help contribute to me being at my best and going out there to be able to perform. 

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“A chance to share it with them really means a lot.”

Over in the visiting dressing room, the respect for Tavares was clear.

“Massive,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. “He has come in (to Toronto) with a lot of expectations and pressure and I think he has lived up to his end of the bargain, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Very impressive player, someone you look up to how he has handled his business and how he goes about his job as a player in the NHL.”

COACH CONDOLENCES

A day after D.J. Smith was fired by the Ottawa Senators, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe and Rangers coach Peter Laviolette threw their support behind the 46-year-old.

“It’s a reality of our business, unfortunately, and that’s the way it goes,” Keefe said. “Specific to D.J., I think he’s a great coach and he’s a great person, probably more importantly. He’s someone that I’ve enjoyed competing against both at the junior level, getting to know working in the (Leafs) organization and then down the road in Ottawa.

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“I’ve seen him do a really good job under not always the most ideal circumstances, but it’s tough news anytime you see that.”

Smith became the fourth coach fired in the National Hockey League this season, joining a group that includes Craig Berube (St. Louis), Dean Evason (Minnesota) and Jay Woodcroft (Edmonton). The Sens haven’t come close to meeting the expectations that have been building for a while in Ottawa and are in last place in the Eastern Conference. 

Laviolette has been fired four times in the NHL and left his previous job with the Washington Capitals after mutually agreeing to part ways with the team this past spring. 

In a salary cap world where trades can’t be consummated as commonly, firing a coach often becomes the route a team takes.

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A lack of longevity is part of the deal. Keefe has been coaching the Leafs for four years and one month since the firing of Mike Babcock in November 2019, but only five NHL coaches — Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay), Mike Sullivan (Pittsburgh), Jared Bednar (Colorado), Rod Brind’Amour (Carolina) and Todd McLellan (Los Angeles) — have been with their current team longer.

“(Pressure on NHL coaches) is at an all-time high,” Laviolette said. “(Getting fired) is part of the game, part of the nature of the job. Coaches do the best they can, they work hard. Not everybody can be in first place at the same time.

“Just be patient and things will turn. Those are good people. It’s always hard when that happens, but it’s part of the job.”

PROSPECTS SHINE

Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan got off on the right foot on Tuesday as Canada won its world junior exhibition opener in Malmo, Sweden, 8-0 against an under-25 team from Denmark.

Minten scored two goals and Cowan had one in the tuneup for the 2024 world junior championship in Gothenburg, which starts on Boxing Day. Canada will play Finland in its tournament opener.

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