Good Canadian kids, eh!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 3:45 PM ET


 TAMPA -- If the Calgary Flames are Canada's Team, who are the other guys?

 Virtually every man, woman and child north of the border knows the Flames are the first Canadian team in the Stanley Cup final since 1994. But that's only the half of it.

 There will be more Canadian players in the final, which opens here tonight, than any year since the Iron Curtain came down.

 There will likely be a minimum of 15 Canadian players on the ice tonight for both the Flames and the Tampa Bay Lightning. And Canada's, er, other team is just as excited about playing in a final involving a Canadian team as Canada's Team.

 "I played in it. I experienced it. I know what it's like. I know the feelings the fans have, the expectations they have. They are playing the game along with you," said former Toronto Maple Leaf Dave Andreychuk, who has played in the most regular season and playoff games - 1,752 - without a Stanley Cup to show for it.

 "It's a Canadian city and it's definitely going to be very exciting," said Vinnie Lecavalier. "When we played Montreal it was very exciting. Now we're in the Stanley Cup final against Calgary and it's going to be very special."

 ST. LOUIS A FORMER FLAME

 Martin St. Louis, odds-on favourite to be the Hart Trophy winner, is a former Flame - Exhibit B behind last year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner J.S. Giguere in the case of the Calgary vs. the Flames before Darryl Sutter took over.

 St. Louis says he can't wait to play in Calgary, not because he can go back and rub it in, but because of the environment.

 "I don't look at this as revenge. I wasn't drafted. Calgary gave me a chance to realize my dream. It's not revenge. I have no hard feelings. I'm not mad. I don't feel I have to put it in their face. I'm looking forward to this like I looked forward to playing Montreal. It's exciting to play in a Canadian city. Hockey is a religion up there. It's the same way in Calgary."

 From Murray Harbour, P.E.I., to Cranbrook, B.C., the Lightning have 16 Canadians who could get their names on the Stanley Cup.

 Between the two teams there are 10 players from Ontario, nine from Alberta, six from Quebec, three from B.C., two from Saskatchewan, one from Manitoba and one from the Maritimes bringing their 'eh' game to the final with these two teams.

 "I think it's great," says Jarome Iginla.

 "It's great for Canadian hockey. It was Canadian hockey is going strong. It says that Canadian hockey is in great shape," said Iginla, a member of Wayne Gretzky's Olympic gold- medal winning team which got the Canadian flag flying again.

 "We've won the last two world championships, our World Juniors teams always do well, our women's team is outstanding and now this. This is great."

 Sutter says it's not accidental when it comes to Calgary.

 "Obviously, I'm Canadian, so you get a little biased," says Sutter of the Flames. The Canadian content is not accidental with a team which has a $40- million U.S. payroll, ranked 19th in the league - $5 million more than 21st-ranked Tampa.

 "We made a commitment last summer. When you are in a small market, No. 1 you have to identify players who want to play there and feel it's really special to play there. But then if you look at the trades we made during the year, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ville Nieminen and Marcus Nilson, two Finns and a Swede, I don't really know how that plays. They've been pretty important players on our team."

 FERENCE HAS IT FIGURED

 Andrew Ference says he's got that figured.

 "Our team is built around Darryl Sutter-type players, Canadian players. Then he gets the rest of them to play like that. Look at Oleg Saprykin. He's adopted the Darryl Sutter ethic. Now he's willing to get absolutely smoked to get the puck out."

 Iginla says the thought has crossed his mind in the last few days how close he came to missing this. With his $7.5-salary, Calgary came close to trading him.

 "I'm a little surprised I was still here this year. I'm very, very thankful. It was tough.I was in my share of trade rumours. I have always enjoyed playing in Calgary. It's been a rebuilding process and I wanted to be here when we turned the corner. It was in my mind that I was going to be traded and not get to enjoy it with the guys and to share it with them. And to experience the atmosphere in Calgary ... Our 17th Avenue! The Magnificent Red Mile! It's great. That's why we play. They make it so much fun to win."

 Martin Gelinas, who won a Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers in 1990 and is the only player who was in the final with the last Canadian team to take the trip, Vancouver in 1994, says there's going to be an atmosphere from coast to coast in Canada which didn't exist in those experiences.

 "Absolutely. In the '80s and early '90s Canadian teams were expected to win. It's been a long time since a Canadian team made it to the finals. You could just feel that the people are taking a lot of pride to see a lot of Canadians in the final and a Canadian city going to the finals with a chance to make it happen. Maybe that's not the case in Toronto. They're still bitter there."

 A Canadian storyline everywhere you turn and somebody has to get in a parting shot at Toronto. Perfect. How Canadian is that?


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