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Born: Jan. 3, 1974, Blenheim, Ont.
Position: Left wing
Leafs Years: 1995-99
Leafs Stats: 253 GP, 36-48-84, 117 PIM
Since 1917, more than 1,000 men have worn the Blue and White in Toronto’s NHL history. They’re part of a team that millions of Canadians grew up listening to, watching on TV or even seeing live, perhaps dreaming they could play for them one day.
Each has his own story, whether just one game or 20-plus seasons. Some won multiple Stanley Cups, others are part of the current 52-year drought. The Sun is profiling select Leafs and their experience in Toronto, today looking at winger Todd Warriner, part of a famous trade and a very memorable goal:
After productive seasons with the Windsor Spitfires, including a stint under ex-Leaf Brad Smith, Warriner was a first-round pick, fourth overall, of the Quebec Nordiques in 1992. He found out he had become a Leaf while watching the start of the 1994 NHL draft on television.
“We lived a few miles outside Blenheim (Ont.), but my grandfather was the only one with sports cable, so we went into town to watch the draft at his place.
“What a shock to hear I’d been traded (part of the Mats Sundin for Wendel Clark blockbuster). But a few months earlier at the rink in Lillehammer, Norway (playing on the Canadian Olympic team), Cliff Fletcher came over to introduce himself to my parents in the stands. I guess he was interested in me then.
“It was a thrill to become a Leaf, though at the same time I remember being sad I wouldn’t be playing with Wendel. I was a big fan and met him through (agent) Don Meehan. But it worked out when Wendel was traded back a few years later.”
Warriner made the Leafs full-time in 1995-96, and played 268 games with 84 points.
“We became a really close team,” Warriner said. “The coaches, such as Mike Murphy (an assistant to Pat Burns and later head coach) were a big part. In the ‘98-99 season (under Pat Quinn), I thought we might go all the way (losing in the conference final). Cujo, Stumpy (Steve Thomas), Fredrik Modin, we all still see each other.”
But a couple of years after coming to Toronto, Warriner saw fellow members of the Nords’ youth movement celebrating the first of two Stanley Cups as part of the transplanted Colorado Avalanche, a chance Warriner might have had.
“Sure I think about that, but by then they’d become a very tough team to make, especially after the players they got in the (Eric) Lindros trade. There’s no certainty I’ve had been there for the Cups. I was happy to join the Leafs.”
Moved to Tampa Bay (coincidentally the last trade the Leafs made in the 20th century), Warriner played sporadically for a total of five other NHL teams, then spent six years with clubs in Finland and Germany.
He and wife Bev still live in the Chatham area, parents of three daughters and a son, aged 9 to 16, five kids if counting an Ecuardorian exchange student with his eldest daughter who was marooned here when COVID-19 closed borders.
Before the NHL halted, Warriner had a pair of second careers on the go, assistant coach at the University of Windsor and as a Sportsnet regional commentator, specializing in the CHL.
“I’d been in one of the early seasons of CBC’s Battle Of The Blades and been doing radio updates on that with Chris McLeod at the radio station in Chatham. That progressed to talking a lot about the Spitfires and when a job came up around 2012, Chris asked if I was interested. I was working games twice a week. Jeff Marek of Sportsnet heard about me and when they got the big NHL TV deal, he was looking for new people.”
Being on the other side of the Leafs media experience gave Warriner a comfort level on radio and camera, and a good rapport with both fellow hosts and guests.
“I’d seen the highs and the lows in Toronto. As a player, I read all the Leaf articles and rode that roller coaster. As a 20-year-old, I was not prepared for it, but I know what it’s like for younger players now. As an ex-Leaf, I want to see them do well. But everything is on hold with me and Sportsnet due to COVID.”
Kevin Hamlin, a former Spitfires goalie, brought him on the Lancers staff last season.
“I went in blind, and got thrown right into it; practices, recruiting trips and showing kids around town. I’d played junior, so it was quite a switch to university. I worked with the defence last year, the plan is to be with the forwards.”
FAVOURITE LEAFS MEMORY
There have been close to 5,000 goals scored since the Air Canada Centre/Scotiabank Arena opened for hockey, and many more to come. But the first belongs to Warriner. On Feb. 20, 1999 at 6:04 of the first period, Warriner scored against Montreal’s Jeff Hackett, assisted by Kris King and Danny Markov.
“Because we’d spent the last month signing things for the closing of the Gardens, it didn’t dawn on me until I got back to the bench to ask ‘where’s the puck, I want that.’
“But it was already at the scorer’s bench, going to the Hall of Fame and my stick went, too. They display both from time to time, which is great if I want to visit.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020