His hands folded behind his head, followed by a heavy sigh, the young defenceman was having a hard time accepting failure and expressed his exasperation. "This has got to come to an end at some point," declared Ian White.
His teammate didn't raise his head, burdened by the weight of recent events and their current situation, yet responded in solemn agreement. "It's tough. We're definitely working hard and getting chances, but, at the end of the day, we've got to find a way to score one more than the other team," said Matt Stajan.
Unable to take it anymore, Ian White lashed out in disgust. "It's as frustrating as I've ever seen – this is brutal," he spat.
The two long-time teammates shared a special bond, forming one half of an elite circle of only 4 players who have been with the Maple Leafs since 2005. The other two, Ponikarovsky and Kaberle, are both Europeans, and though often criticized, rarely face their accusers the way Stajan and White stare down the glare of the media spotlight.
"It's up to us to get out of this little string – well, I guess it's been all year – and make sure we give ourselves a chance to win more games than we have," said Matt Stajan, listening for the sound of conviction in his own voice.
White didn't hear it, and sneered at the weakness of the attempt. "We're not anywhere near where we expected to be," he moaned.
Stajan's lip curled thoughtfully and he decided to measure his words more carefully. When he finally spoke again, his voice was soft as a whisper. "These next two weeks are big for us with a lot of games against teams close to us in the standings."
"We definitely have a massive obstacle to overcome," White interjected.
"We've got to get a lot of points here and slowly eat away at it and hopefully we can keep climbing," continued Stajan, fighting off the anxiety that was slowly eating away at him.
Despite their relative youth, the two players understood that they were often relied upon as leaders and veterans. Yet, never having played for another NHL team, their experiences were limited. The Maple Leafs' dressing room was the only Home they'd ever known.
“These are tough times for our team, but we have to stick together,” said Ian White.
"Maybe we have tried to do too much ourselves and not used each other enough. Sometimes, less is more," replied Stajan.
It sounded awkward, and it made Ian White feel awkward. "So much of this game is mental," he said with a dazed expression.
It was then that Matt Stajan noticed that Ian White's eyes were rarely focused, usually darting this way and that, like a kite caught in the wind. "We're trying. I know we can't feel sorry for ourselves."
White looked up and the two players' eyes met as they nodded in firm agreement."You've just got to keep your head up and stay positive because you'll get through this. It's only a matter of time."
"We all make mistakes out there, it's just a matter of not getting too down on yourself," added Stajan.
Side-stepping the argument about wether it was really a matter of time or a matter of not getting too down, White continued gracefully forward. "You have to try and take some positives out of every day,” he said philosophically.
Stajan could feel the mood in the room beginning to change. "We know we can be a lot better."
White smiled, encouraged by the sudden certainty in Stajan's voice. He tried to temper his friend's optimism with a dose of reality, but the message was still very warm and positive. "Any day you get to live your dream is a good one, but not every day will be a success."
As usual, White's wisdom seemed empowering to Stajan. Suddenly he stood up and climbed out of the jacuzzi-pool, water dripping from his athletic body and splashing the tile floor, making it slippery and wet under his bare feet. He grabbed a towel bar to steady himself, and then feeling White's gaze, glanced down below his own waistline, his confidence rising. "We're men here, we want to prove we can be a lot better," he said proudly.
White was also getting out of the jacuzzi now. He ignored Stajan's bold exhibition and reached for a towel, wrapping it around his waist and turned to face the mirror. With careful precision, White used a small pair of scissors to delicately groom one or two stray hairs on his mustache before stepping back to admire his own reflection. At last, he turned towards Stajan, ready to shed his doubt and forget his concern. "Personally, I feel good," he said with a devious grin.
From the Branches: Probability is a funny thing
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