What could possibly be a problem for the parents of a West Vancouver teenager who has achieved so much in his young life that he's coming to town to play on the blue line for the famous Toronto Maple Leafs against the Vancouver Canucks?
In one word: Tickets.
"Everybody is phoning me: 'Hey, can you get tickets?'" said a laughing Andy Rielly, father of 19-year-old NHL phenom Morgan Rielly.
Vancouver, like all Western Canadian cities, is still crawling with old Maple Leafs fans from the Original Six days as well as other transplanted Ontarians who drive ticket prices way up for any visit from the gods in Blue and White. Add to that the fact that this Saturday is Pavel Bure Night and suddenly this is becoming one of the hottest tickets of the year.
Luckily for the Rielly family, Andy happens to own a lumber company here on the North Shore and the building supply business has helped him make some connections with local high rollers. When news came out that Morgan was going to stick with the Leafs rather than go back to the Western Hockey League, Andy had clients and suppliers coming out of the woodwork willing to let him have their tickets for Saturday's Canucks vs. Leafs battle, Toronto's only visit to Vancouver this season. The family has secured enough tickets to bring along Grandma, Morgan's mother Shirley, brother Connor and a couple of cousins. Andy knows what a precious gift those tickets are.
"You could sell those things for $900 on Stub Hub," he said. There's no chance, however, that these will end up on the market. As long as Morgan cracks the Leafs' lineup on Saturday - there are no guarantees, particularly for rookies, but he looks like a pretty safe bet - the hometown game will be a major highlight in a whirlwind couple of months that is already full of crowning moments for the former Hollyburn Husky.
Morgan showed well in Maple Leafs training camp and earned a spot on the opening day roster. His first ever NHL regular season game came in the team's third contest of the season, the home opener on a Saturday night in early October.
Andy and the family didn't get much advance warning that Morgan was going to make his debut. The Riellys had just enough time to take Morgan's yellow lab Maggie to a dog ranch - "Morgan looks after her about three per cent of the time," said Andy with a laugh - before catching a 7 a.m. flight to make it to Toronto just in time for puck drop to see Morgan play more than 18 minutes in a 5-4 shootout win over Ottawa.
Since then Morgan has seemingly earned the trust of his coaches and teammates, scoring four points in 10 games, playing at least 15 minutes in each of his starts and earning a place in the team's top-four defence rotation. There was, however, one more major hurdle to jump last week as the games piled up. NHL teams can send young players back to junior after nine games without having their rookie contracts kick in. Whether or not Morgan would make it to No. 10 was a very hot topic of conversation amongst the massive Maple Leafs media horde. Morgan heard about it daily, all the while living in a Toronto hotel room.
"It was stressful (for Morgan) for nine weeks living at the Westin and every day is a tryout and every game is under the microscope," said Andy. "He can get a little rundown with the press, there's like four times as many of them as they have here. But you have to kind of go with the flow. It's certainly not a bad thing to have a lot of people interested in what you're doing."
The good news came last Thursday when the coaches pulled Morgan aside after practice and told him he'd be staying in the big leagues. In a demonstration of how big and hungry the massive Maple Leafs media horde can be, half the questions in Morgan's press conference following the announcement were about how he had managed to withstand the onslaught from the massive Maple Leafs media horde.
"I've been answering with all the clichés I can," Morgan answered. Along with a nice deadpan sense of humour, Morgan also showed the maturity and ambition that have helped him reach these lofty heights at such a young age.
"I have to keep working hard, keep getting better," he said. "I'm not happy with just being OK, I want to keep getting better here and keep trying to improve. Hopefully with time and some more experience I'll be able to do that."
While Saturday's game against the Canucks will be the main event, tomorrow night will also be a highlight for the Riellys as Morgan will be back in Vancouver and able to come home for a big family meal.
"He really wants to see his dog," said Andy. "She misses him too . . . she's wearing her Leafs rain jacket in inclement weather. She's a real fan."
Maggie is not the only Rielly who is missing Morgan, but Andy and family are used to watching their son from afar - in Grade 9 he moved to Saskatchewan to attend the world-renowned hockey academy at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.
"That wasn't a real happy day in my wife's life because that was her youngest one going," said Andy. Morgan stayed in Saskatchewan for junior, suiting up with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
It's all worth it now, however, as Morgan has taken advantage of every opportunity given to him, said Andy.
"You look back and think of the times that you've driven him and coached him and all you want to do is support the kid - but when he works that hard, for me I just know how much it meant for him and how hard he's worked to get there. It's not a high percentage that there's going to be a 19-year-old defenceman playing in the NHL. He's really been focused, he's sacrificed a lot."
The Riellys have sacrificed a lot too, as any family must do to pay for the skates and sticks and ice time and minivans needed to launch a hockey career. That fact is not lost on Morgan, who sent his father a short and sweet text message when he found out he was staying with the Leafs.
"He just said, 'Thanks Dad, the Leafs said they're going to keep me. I just wanted to tell you I love you and I wouldn't be an NHLer if it wasn't for you,'" Andy recited.
Life doesn't get much better for a hockey dad. "I just had a moment to sit and think - the whole thing has worked out pretty well."
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Saturday night's Leafs vs. Canucks game begins at 4 p.m. and will be shown live on Hockey Night in Canada.
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