These days, Rock is place to be

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Bob Cole must have momentarily thought he was back at the Air Canada Centre yesterday morning.

Cole, one of Newfoundland's more famous native sons, had just wandered into Mile One Stadium to check out the morning skate here in St. John's when he was informed that a few familiar faces were in the area.

Was he aware that Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Keith Acton was out on the ice helping Matt Stajan and some of the other St. John's Maple Leafs run through their drills?

"No."

Did he know that Don Cherry, his outspoken colleague with the now-dormant Hockey Night in Canada, was in town signing autographs to promote one of his restaurants. "Really?"

Cole. Cherry. Acton. Stajan. What was this, the home opener for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Sadly, no. Even with the news yesterday that the executive of the National Hockey League Players' Association will meet with the 30 player reps Nov. 2 in Toronto, no end seems in sight for this ugly lockout.

So on this day, the next best place to satisfy one's hockey fix is here in St. John's, where the Baby Leafs last night opened up their home American Hockey League schedule for the final time.

"We all have passion for the sport," said Acton, who is assisting the St. John's coaching staff in any way he can. "So I guess we will go wherever to find a game."

And what a game it was.

Through regulation time and a five-minute overtime period, the Baby Leafs and Syracuse Crunch combined for 67 shots only to find themselves deadlocked at 2-2.

Time for a shootout.

In the end, Mikael Tellqvist was beaten twice on five shots. The Leafs scored but once in four attempts on Syracuse goalie Pascal Leclaire.

All eyes suddenly focus on young Matt Stajan. He is the final shooter. His mandate: Score or lose.

"I hadn't been in a shootout since minor hockey," Stajan said. "It's exciting for the fans, but for a player, you know failure could cost your team a point that might mean the difference between making and missing the playoffs."

With the crowd of 5,079 whooping, Stajan calmly skates toward Leclaire. Everything is going to plan.

Then the puck hops off his stick.

Syracuse 3, St. John's 2. Despite a valiant effort, the Leafs are winless in four starts.

On the ice it is obvious Stajan is a marked man. Roughing up the alleged pretty boy of the Baby Leafs seems to be the goal of opponents on a nightly basis.

Off the ice has been a learning experience as well.

"The other night after we played in Syracuse, we were on a bus for 10 hours to Portland, Maine, then played that night," Stajan said. "My body was exhausted. It's certainly different than life in the NHL."

Once Stajan arrived in St. John's with the rest of the team earlier this week, he wanted to watch one of the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox baseball games on the tube. Just one problem. With the time difference in Newfoundland, the game didn't start until 9:30 p.m.

At least he's still playing hockey for the Maple Leafs -- even if this isn't the ACC.


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