BILLECK: Laine silences rumours, naysayers with masterclass performance

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There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Good things happen to those who wait.”

If you waited patiently — and nervously — for the name Patrik Laine to disappear from trade rumours throughout an elongated off-season, Thursday night was your night.

A 4-3 come-from-behind win in overtime against the Calgary Flames in which the Finnish 22-year-old razzled and dazzled, scoring two goals — including the all-important winner in OT — while adding an assist for good measure was exactly what you were waiting for.

No trade talk. No whispers of wanting out. Just a special talent sharing his gifts with the masses.

In a matter of 60 minutes — or a few hours of actual time — you could almost see a fanbase go from, ‘Hey, he’s not worth $10 million’ to ‘The hell with it, give him all the millions.’

It’s funny what a three-point night can do.

But it wasn’t just that Laine, the 22-year-old Finnish superstar, had three points. It was how he got them.

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The first goal, a wrister on the breakaway, saw Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom still wondering when the shot came off Laine’s stick, long after it was resting behind him. That shot has a life-time patent on it at this point. It’s money.

Laine wasn’t messing around either. When Kyle Connor got drilled from behind by Noah Hanifin in the second period, Laine’s eyes became murderous. He wanted Hanifin’s head and then went for Matthew Tkachuk’s throat.

The bloodthirstiness in Laine was evident, from the rip he took for his first goal of the year to the punches he tried to land during the fracas later on.

Laine’s own patience would pay off in the second. When Winnipeggers were screaming into their TVs for Laine to shoot, the sniper elected to thread a needle instead, finding Kyle Connor who finished the job that tied the game 3-3.

It was the overtime winner, however, that showed maturity in Laine’s game — a psychological switch that began last year and, evidently, only reinforced itself over the off-season.

Patience, again, sparked the play as Laine dragged the puck forward in his own zone and began the final push up the ice.

With Neal Pionk as an option, Laine didn’t second guess. His first attempt at the shot went awry, his stick lifted by Sean Monahan’s desperate backcheck. But Laine stuck with the play, got the stick back behind the puck and still managed to pick the low, far corner past Markstrom.

Pause it there for a moment. In earlier years, Laine may have accepted his fate. There would have been no second effort, just a left-hand turn back the way they came.

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Gleaning much from the first game of a particular regular season doesn’t often bear too many fruits. That’s especially the case this season, where training camps ran just over a week and there were no preseason games for players to get their bearings sorted out.

If nothing else, Laine’s determination from the opening faceoff was evident. There were several glimpses of it last season, Laine’s best in my mind.

The sample size is small. It’s one game. There are 55 more to go in this shortened season. Those are all relevant points. But Laine’s game had been trending in a new, improved direction since last season and it hasn’t appeared to lose any momentum.

Laine dictated the events of Thursday’s season opener. He took his team on his back, defended it when necessary, and then produced the two points it desired.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” may be the meme of 2021 in Winnipeg.

It might also be the local hockey team’s ticket to success.

sbilleck@postmedia.com

Twitter: @scottbilleck

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