Preseason Game 29 – Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 2

Preseason Game 29
Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 2
Monday, September 12, 1994
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

They came mostly for their first look at Mats Sundin, the Maple Leafs’ Swedish saviour.

What 15,728 fans at Maple Leaf Gardens got last night, however, was an eyeful of a teenage goalkeeper with the face of an altar boy and the composure of an IndyCar race driver.

Éric Fichaud, the latest prodigy to come out of the netminding breeding grounds that is Québec major junior hockey, dazzled and danced his way to 25 saves in slightly more than half an exhibition game against the Montréal Canadiens.

While Sundin was mostly silent throughout a 4-2 win, the 18 year old netminder opened his pro career by starting against, and then stoning, his hometown Habs before a national French and English television audience.

“A dream come true,” said the angelic-looking Fichaud. “I’m very happy, and it was very fun. I was playing in front of 16,000 people for the first time in my life.”

While at least two veteran goalies would have to hit the injury list for Fichaud to find his way on to the Leaf roster this fall, the youngster displayed the composure and quickness that have many calling him a Félix Potvin clone.

“He stood on his head,” said Potvin, who allowed one goal on 12 shots while Fichaud was blocking 25 of 26. “He made me nervous when I was going in there because of how well he played.”

Leaf head coach Pat Burns said Fichaud is the latest in a long line of Québec-bred goalkeepers to partially or completely mimic Montréal superstar Patrick Roy, who didn’t make the trip to Toronto for last night’s game because of his grandmother’s funeral in Québec City.

“(Fichaud) has shown me things all week long,” said Burns. “I think it raised a lot of eyebrows when I went with him to start, but I wasn’t scared to do it.”

Fichaud, who was born in the same Montréal suburb as Potvin and also plays for the Chicoutimi junior squad, will almost certainly head back to junior after his stint with the Leafs and possibly earn a place on Canada’s world junior team.

“I’d like to make the team (Leafs), but I don’t have the power to make those decisions,” said Fichaud, who was solid in the first period with nine saves, then sensational in the second when he stopped 17 of 18 drives in a little more than 10 minutes of play.

Nine of those drives came during an early Montréal power play, a sequence that included good stops off Vince Damphousse, John LeClair, Donald Brashear and Turner Stevenson.

While Fichaud shone, Sundin displayed only a couple of fleeting glimpses of his immense talent.

“Tonight, he was searching around a bit but I thought he did some good things,” said Burns, who used Sundin at centre and on right wing. “We sat down together and I told him straight out that he has all the tools to be one of the top three or four players in the NHL, but that the desire has to come from him.”

Sundin, meanwhile, seemed relieved to have his first night over and done with.

“I just tried to play a simple game,” he said. “I know the guys a little bit better already after one week and hopefully it’ll just keep getting better.”

Mike Ridley, Mike Gartner, Stew Gavin and Nikolai Borschevsky scored for Toronto. Swedish rookie blueliner Kenny Jonsson picked up two assists and also received a few stitches in the third period after being struck by an errant puck.

After the Leafs lost hardluck winger Todd Warriner to a shoulder injury during a morning workout, Leaf defenceman Dmitri Mironov limped off the ice midway through the second period with a bruised knee that will keep him off skates for a couple of days.

Paul DiPietro had the only Montréal goal on Fichaud, and LeClair beat Potvin in the third.

Story originally published in The Toronto Star, September 13, 1994

1st Period
TOR GOAL – 04:08 – Gartner (Gilmour, Jonsson)

MTL PEN – 05:05 – Desjardins
TOR GOAL – 10:43 – Borschevsky (Ridley, Gartner)
MTL PEN – 11:57 – Brashear
TOR PEN – 16:30 – Berehowsky

2nd Period
TOR PEN SHOT – 03:46 – Sacco missed
TOR PEN – 03:46 – Gartner
TOR PEN – 05:45 – Macoun
MTL PP GOAL – 05:59 – DiPietro (Guillet, Sévigny)
TOR PEN – 13:31 – Gill
MTL PEN – 18:29 – Schneider

3rd Period
TOR GOAL – 01:32 – Gavin (Jonsson, Gill)

TOR GOAL – 02:29 – Ridley (Gartner, Macoun)
MTL GOAL – 02:38 – LeClair (Guillet, Schneider)
TOR PEN – 07:12 – Ridley
MTL PEN – 17:31 – Stevenson

TOR – Fichaud (26-27), Potvin (W, 12-13)
MTL – Tugnutt (L, 27-31)

TOR – 14+8+9 = 31
MTL – 9+22+9 = 40