No rivalry here: Laine and Matthews face off for first time in NHL action
“I’m not playing against him—it’s Toronto against Winnipeg,” said Winnipeg Jets star Patrik Laine.
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Hockey fans love a good rivalry, but the two young stars at the centre of hockey’s latest dichotomous drama just aren’t as fixated on it.
Drafted first and second overall in the 2016 NHL entry draft, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are sharing a spotlight, whether they like it or not, and together they agree to disagree with everyone pointing out a so-called “rivalry.”
“I’m not playing against him—it’s Toronto against Winnipeg,” Laine said after Wednesday’s morning skate, before the Leafs and Jets faced off at the MTS Centre.
After Matthews, 19, netted a record-setting four goals in his first game, which was a losing effort, Laine, 18, scored a pivotal goal and added an assist to help his team get a win in his first game. He said he doesn’t care if Matthews scores 20 goals. There’s no rivalry.
Matthews was similarly dismissive of rivalry suggestions from reporters, telling Sportsnet, “It’s definitely a media and fans story.”
“I think both of us don’t really look at it as a comparison… it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Winnipeg Jets.”
But for the last decade, the performances of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been compared every step of the way, something the two eventually embraced.
Their teams have met twice in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the kind of game they each played made their rivalry interesting even when they weren’t sharing the ice.
Crosby, the Canadian centre and playmaker with incredible finesse, versus Ovie, the Russian winger with a scary shot, physical presence and charisma to boot.
Swap Canada for the United States and Russia for Finland and the two top picks from the 2016 draft have been cast to play (and fit nearly perfectly) the same roles on hockey’s biggest stage.
They were also drafted into opposite conferences like last year’s rookies-to-watch, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the two first picks from the 2015 draft and part of the youth movement hockey fans are beginning to recognize.
Though games between them will be infrequent, every time Laine and Matthews meet—just like any combo of the Calder chasers of this season and seasons past—the comparisons between them will be inescapable.
Eventually, they might even admit there’s a rivalry.