Imagine, as many of us have, that you are playing your very first NHL game. Stomach tied in knots, palms, very sweaty indeed. Then imagine that game is game #3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and you are 20 years old. Frightening!!!
Well as all Maple Leafs’ fans know, there was Adam Mair in last season’s NHL playoffs, bowling over Pittsburgh Penguins’ goaltender, Tom Barrasso, as he goes to the net to followup on a Tie Domi shot. Not only does he bowl-over the Penguins’ netminder, but he has the presence to flip a rebound, backhanded, into the net for his first NHL goal in that first NHL game. A workman-like goal, from a workman-like, young man.
Many had Adam pegged for a role on the Toronto Maple Leafs when the 99-00 season started, but management felt more seasoning was necessary. To St. John’s he went, and after a bit of a slow start, he scored 10 pts. in his last 10 games for a struggling team. Then, opportunity came knocking.
Injuries to forwards, Mike Johnson and Nik Antropov, and a trade of veteran, Todd Warriner to Tampa Bay, opened up a spot for Mair on the big club’s roster. There he is in his first regular season NHL game, chipping the puck from the half-boards in his own end to linemate, Kris King. As the puck scoots free, Tomas Kaberle gets it ahead to center, Alyn McCauley. Mair sees the play developing and streaks down ice through the right circle, making a beeline to the net. McCauley makes a perfect cross-ice pass to Mair, who is ready and has his stick down on the ice. The perfect pass is re-directed by Adam past Capitals’ goaltender, Olaf Kolzig and he has his first goal in his first NHL regular season game!! Breathless!!
“It really started for me when my uncle gave me a pair of skates for Christmas before my second birthday and took me down to a frozen pond near my home. My parents supported me and motivated me so well in those early days. They drove me to all my games and practices and if I needed work with faceoffs or something like that, they were always there”, relates Mair.
Those early lessons sang true for Adam as he is known already as a hard-working young player. “I think my work ethic is probably my best attribute, so far. I like to see myself as a 2-way player, who can help in both ends. I like to hit and work hard to improve”. Watch again those tapes of last year’s Leafs’ playoff run and you will see the young forward throwing many a hit.
Adam’s major junior career was spent at Owen Sound and was capped off by an injury-shortened, 23 goal, 41 assist campaign in 43 games of the 98-99 season. Showing up big in big-games became evident when he scored 10 goals and added 10 assists in 16 OHL playoff games. The native of Hamilton, Ontario also represented his country in the World Junior Championships, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist in 7 games.
Following the OHL playoffs, Adam caught his breath in time to play in 3 AHL playoff games for St. John’s just before Pat Quinn came calling.
A pivotal moment came for Adam when he captained a very talented, Team Ontario squad in the Under-17 championships in Moncton, New Brunswick, a couple of years back. “That provided me with a big boost of confidence and carried over to the next year in junior”, states Adam. Drafted in the 4th round, 84th overall by the Maple Leafs in the 1997 NHL entry draft, the young man has climbed the ladder, step-by-step.
He has been compared to a young, Doug Jarvis, even to an Adam Deadmarsh, but where does Adam Mair see himself? “I think starting out here, I see myself as someone who can be reliable in both ends. I want to be on the ice late in the game, protecting a lead, making the right decision in my own end, taking important faceoffs, making the timely hit. The speed of the game at the NHL level is much faster, of course, the decisions need to be made much more quickly”, he states, “But I am adjusting”. And adjust he shall.
Few will work harder or be more committed than Adam Mair as he now attempts to stay at the NHL level. Possibly the most compelling testimony to that end was seeing Adam’s badge of courage in that first, regular season NHL game against the Capitals. As the TV camera panned toward him after scoring the goal, it was plain for all to see: His left-eye blackened from some AHL mishap. Oh yes, indeed. Pat Quinn just may have a hard time sending young Adam back for more seasoning once the troops have all healed.