On February 27, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Florida Panthers 3-2 – but the takeaway was Frederik Andersen. Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo called Andersen one of the top goalies in the NHL. “It’s nice [to hear],” said Andersen, 28, “Obviously, he has been around for a long time and seen a lot of good goalies. That’s cool to get some praise from him.”
Frederik Andersen: a Toronto Maple Leaf Great
It’s been more than a decade since fans at Air Canada Centre have chanted a goaltender’s name with such consistency.
Until he signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent in 2002, Curtis Joseph often heard capacity crowds at Toronto Maple Leafs home games salute his acrobatics in the crease with cries of “Cu-jo, Cu-jo.” After future Hall of Famer Ed Belfour was brought in to replace him to start the 2002-03 season, the chants were appreciative serenades of “Ed-die, Ed-die.”
Belfour was worthy of those vocal accolades, helping the Maple Leafs defeat the Ottawa Senators in seven games in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Who could have guessed that, nearly 14 years later, Toronto would not have won a playoff series since then? (They have made the playoffs twice in that span; 2013, when they lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins in the conference quarterfinals, and last season, when they lost in six games to the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round.)
Thanks in part to goaltender Frederik Andersen, however, there is hope that the dry spell will come to an end this spring.
With apologies to centre Auston Matthews, Andersen (32-17-5) is considered by those inside the Toronto dressing room to be the Maple Leafs MVP this season. A few days ago, Andersen’s 1-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on was his NHL career-high fifth shutout.
Frederik Andersen: The Kid from Denmark
Here’s this 28-year-old kid from Denmark who started his career with the Anaheim Ducks. Not the prototype you’d figure would flourish playing in the fishbowl of Toronto. But he’s got the perfect easygoing demeanour to survive the spotlight.
Don’t let Andersen’s laid-back personality fool you, however. Underneath the surface rests a combustible personality and an intense focus on winning.
That was never more evident than in his comments after the Maple Leafs lost 5-2 to the Washington Capitals on Saturday March 3rd at the NHL Stadium series game in Annapolis, Maryland. It was Toronto’s third consecutive loss.
“We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team,” Andersen said. “I don’t think we’re tired. I think it’s lack of effort at certain points and that’s something that can’t happen.”
Even after the Maple Leafs lost to the Capitals, Toronto sits firmly in third position in the Atlantic division entering their away game against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET). In the minds of his teammates, Andersen is the reason why the Leafs have excelled this season even with a young roster.
“Freddie’s a quiet guy but when he speaks up, everyone listens,” forward Zach Hyman said. “It means something, he’s been our best player this year.”
Andersen had weight issues last season, but he and coach Mike Babcock credit the goalie’s new diet and strength program for his success in his fifth NHL season.
“I think a huge part of it is fitness,” Babcock said. “He did a real nice job this summer and so he’s just building off of confidence.”
Main Image Credit: