New Leafs goalie Anthony Stolarz ‘one of best in world’ and ready to prove it

‘This decision was best for me and my family. I’m looking forward to getting up there.’

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Anthony Stolarz didn’t get much recovery time from the Florida Panthers’ Stanley Cup party week before he had to make a career decision. 

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And that led him to a two-year, $5 million U.S. deal with the Maple Leafs, projected as their 1A goalie with Joseph Woll this coming season. 

“It was quick,” the 32-year-old said with a smile on Wednesday during his introductory Zoom call with Toronto media. “A lot of guys were hung over from the parade (Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, just before NHL free agency began). I got in touch with my agent and it was like ‘is it going to be this team, that team, are we gonna to do this (leave Florida)? Let’s get rolling. 

“This decision was best for me and my family. I’m looking forward to getting up there.” 

The 6-foot-6 Stolarz is ready to work with Joseph Woll, but the attraction of the Leaf situation is more playing time than he had in Florida behind workhorse Sergei Bobrovsky. Stolarz played in 27 games and won 16 of them, with a .925 save percentage, but that’s sure to increase in Toronto, especially if Woll has any more unfortunate accidents with injuries.  

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“Only one of us can play, and I want to go in and seize the opportunity,” he said. “But also be a good teammate and support Woller.  

“I know I’m one of the best in the world and looking forward to the opportunity.” 

The New Jersey native, who grew up watching two of the best tend twine for local NHL teams, Ron Hextall and Martin Brodeur, says Bobrovsky was a shining example as he plowed through four playoff rounds to a seven-game win over Edmonton in the Cup final. 

“I thought I worked hard. But he went above and beyond, with weights and stretching. At the end of the day, he’s on the dark side now. I can’t wait to play them (March 13).” 

The Leafs have not gone past the second round in a couple of decades, but Stolarz said he made his decision in part because he liked the make-up of the offence as a catalyst to play deep into April and May. He knows a number of Leafs from previous stops in the systems of Philadelphia, Edmonton and Anaheim. 

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He assured that any Cup cobwebs would clear by the time the Fourth of July celebrations were completed with friends and family and he’d be at the practice facility in Toronto next week. For now, he’s trying to pick a date for his day with the Cup back in Jersey. Defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who also signed with Toronto after the Panthers’ win, will have a similar choice. 

The Stolarz signing meant the end of Ilya Samsonov’s time in Toronto. He signed a one-year $1.8 million deal on Tuesday with the Vegas Golden Knights. He was quite a story last year, from almost being driven out of the league by an unexplained dip in mental and physical play, only to rally and finish the season with a record of 27-7-8.  

Fair or not, Samsonov faced blame for the Game 7 overtime loss to Boston after Woll was hurt, but he badly wanted to stay in Toronto. When talking of Leafs fans to the media, he would always touch his heart in respect. 

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