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The Toronto Maple Leafs will roll the dice in Sin City tonight when they take on the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena, and it will feature former Leafs forward Phil Kessel tying the recently retired Keith Yandle for the NHL's iron man streak of 989 consecutive games played. Of course, fans remember Kessel's tenure in Toronto very well, as do current payers on the roster.
And while they'll be opponents on the ice tonight, there's nothing but respect from the current Leafs players to Kessel.
“When you look at him, you wouldn’t think he’d be that guy with the ironman streak,” Auston Matthews told reporters in Las Vegas on Sunday. “He’s had an incredible career.”
“You’ve got to find what works for you, and Phil has done that,” defenseman Morgan Rielly explained recently. “He did work hard and he did put in the time. He’s an amazing athlete. He’s a strong guy. He loves the game … I think there always has been more to Phil than meets the eye.”
And while Kessel may have garnered a reputation for looking anything like a professional athlete, Rielly said that he's fully aware of it and sometimes plays it up for the cameras.
“A good example of that was when he took a picture with (the Stanley Cup) with all the hot dogs,” Rielly said. “He is self-aware.”
First year Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy is loving what Kessel brings to the team in terms of his hockey IQ.
“I’ll say this: Phil’s a guy that plays with his legs and his hockey IQ,” Cassidy said recently. “So he’s not in harm’s way in certain areas that other guys might be. Yet he still has the puck a lot. So when you have the puck, you’re going to get hit. So obviously, he’s a guy that’s found his way around the ice that is aware of his surroundings.”
Toronto takes on Vegas tonight starting at 10:00 PM EST.