Ten, 15, 20, nearly 30 minutes after the coach’s long whistle had blown and the vast majority of the Toronto Maple Leafs had fulfilled their media obligations, doffed their sweaty gear, showered and left, they kept playing.
A quintet of the young core dogged by the dog days of their first NHL season played out under real expectations — Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and Connor Brown — encircled backup goalie Garret Sparks and played round after round of rebound, chirping and laughing at the north end of the practice sheet.
Free from the refs that won’t bite their whistles, away from the coaches who keep switching lines, and all those questions about their 3-7 mid-season malaise and parched power play and the Bruins and Canadiens eating up the ground at their heels.
Simply enjoying the game they grew up worshipping, the same game that has frustrated them during this ugly and uncharacteristic 1-6 home stretch.
“We’re not really working on things,” Marner clarified once Monday’s bonus session finally wrapped. “We’re just screwing around playing rebound with Garret. It’s fun. We’re joking around and having fun with each other.
“These are times when you’ve got to enjoy being around with the team. The stretch we’re in isn’t good. We’re trying to get out of it, trying to be more consistent every day.
“When everyone’s off the ice, it’s that fun stuff you do to try to get back to the feeling you had as a kid.”