Trade to Maple Leafs brings Thorold native Conor Timmins closer to home

On Sunday, Jan. 8, Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Conor Timmins converted passes from Mitch Marner and team captain John Tavares and beat Philadelphia Flyers netminder Carter Hart for the first goal of his National Hockey League career.

The even-strength marker put the visiting Leafs up 3-1 on their way to a 6-2 victory.

His only shot on net that night found the back of it 7:01 into the second period but the 24-year-old from Thorold waited much longer to end a scoring drought at professional hockey’s highest level.

To be exact, 1,193 days. That’s the time between his first NHL game, Oct. 3, 2019, with the Colorado Avalanche; and his 53rd, on Jan. 8, with the Leafs.

“I had hoped to get it a little earlier, but I guess everything happens for a reason,” Timmins said in a phone interview from Toronto. “It was pretty cool to get it playing for the Leafs.

“That was nice.”

Not to mention, a boyhood dream come true. The 6-foot-2, 202-pound right-hand shot was a Maple Leafs fan growing up.

“My father was a Leafs fan and my grandfather. I guess I just followed in the family footsteps.”

While he prefers wearing blue and white rather than the colours he wore for two seasons each in the Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes organizations, the one-time Thorold Blackhawk and St. Catharines Falcon has fond memories of playing in the Rockies and the desert.

“I enjoyed my time in Colorado and Arizona, but it’s definitely a little extra special playing for Toronto,” he said.

News of his trade to the Leafs for centre Curtis Douglas was a “bittersweet moment” for Timmins.

“I had some good relationships in Arizona and a lot of good friends,” he said. “I had teammates that I was going to miss, but to be coming to a storied franchise like the Leafs — a team I grew up rooting for and a solid team for the last couple of years —- is definitely super exciting.

“It’s been a great fit so far.”

While the pressure of playing in a hockey hotbed is more intense compared to Arizona, where the Coyotes are averaging 4,600 fans per game, pressure goes hand-in-hand with playing in the NHL as far as Timmins is concerned.

“Yeah, I think that comes with playing for the Leafs, but I think all the guys playing at the NHL level are used to that pressure and know how to manage it.”

Though the 32nd overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft missed the entire 2018-19 season recovering from a concussion he suffered playing for the Soo Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs and all but six games of the 2021-22 season after injuring his knee, worries about getting hurt is “not even a thought on my mind.”

“I’m just happy to be back playing hockey. That’s the only thing that’s on my mind.”

The way the graduate of the Southern Tier Admirals triple-A organization looks at it, there’s always the risk of injuries in a contact sport.

“I think the way I look at is everyone gets injured. It’s a fast-paced, physical game,” he said. “It’s bound to happen to people at some point, it’s just how you bounce back from those.

“I’ve put in the work to rehab my injuries. I feel really good and my body feels great right now.”

He left the Colorado organization two years before the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2021-22. Does Timmins ever think about that?

“Obviously, it would have been nice to be there for another year, but you can’t really look at things and guess what would have happened,” he said. “I think everything happens for a reason, and I’m happy with where I am at now.

“I’m just trying to work every day and be the best version of myself that I can be.”

Timmins doesn’t think his game has changed much since turning pro.

“I think my game had an NHL style to it even when I was in junior. I’ve always played a two-way game, and I thought I could bring that two-way game to any system I was put in,” he said.

“I obviously needed to work on aspects of my game, but I never really wanted to change who I was as a player.”

Timmins considers his play in his team’s own end as his greatest strength as a two-way defenceman.

“I think my ability to break out pucks is probably my biggest asset,” he said. “Being first back for pucks and making good first touches for our team transition up the ice is something I have always taken pride in.”

Timmins has found defencemen make adjustments based on who their playing with but so much according to who is playing goal.

“There are nuances each partnership has. In terms of goaltending, I think we have trust in all of our goalies,” he said. “Sammy (Ilya Samsonov) and (Matt) Murray have both been great for us this year.

“You never really need to adjust with those guys, you just trust that they’re going to stop the puck because of how good they’ve been this year.”

Timmins has made the most of being much closer to home since his trade from Arizona in November.

“I got to spend Christmas at home, which was nice. I usually didn’t get to do that being in Arizona or Colorado because of the travel and having so little time off,” he said. “That was a nice thing to have.

“I try to get down there as much as I can but obviously with a busy schedule it’s tough sometimes.”

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