Borje Salming knows not to count the Leafs out

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

To a critical eye, the blue-line corps of the Maple Leafs reminds one of the Second World War defences placed along the Maginot Line which was supposed to defend France from the on-storming German army.

They failed, of course, and so has the current Leafs defence in front of Ed Belfour and Mikael Tellqvist.

Veteran observers, however, will recall the days when the Toronto defence was as solid as the Great Wall of China. One only has to recall the names of Tim Horton, Allan Stanley, Bobby Baun, Carl Brewer and, later on, Sweden's gift to Canada -- Borje Salming.

The tall, technically well- equipped Viking played 1,148 regular season games in the NHL and scored 150 goals. A Hockey Hall of Famer, Salming also was selected once to the first NHL all-star team and five times to the second.

As the saying goes, Salming had a maple leaf tattooed on his backside. Today, at 54, he is still lacing up his skates, but only for charity games. In fact, he will be in Toronto next week to play in charity oldtimers games with some of his former mates and foes.

I phoned Borje the other day in Stockholm and wanted to know, from the hockey player-turned-industrialist, what he thought of his former team which is now struggling in an effort to make this year's playoffs.

"Never underestimate the Maple Leafs," Salming cautioned. "That team is always capable of surprising, in spite of what the critics are saying. I can't go into details because I haven't seen them much this season.

"You see, in Sweden, we only get highlights of some NHL games and we can't really follow any particular team.

But, I am looking forward to visiting the Air Canada Centre and talking to the boys. They always treat me warmly when I visit Toronto."

Salming, who also played for the Swedish national team in the Olympics and the world championships, is proud that the Leafs now have three Swedish players. In his days -- which would be the 1970s and '80s -- the Leafs had only two -- himself and winger Inge Hammarstrom.

Today, they have two Olympic gold medallists -- Mats Sundin and Tellqvist -- as well as talented rookie Alexander Steen.

Salming still has ties to Toronto -- perhaps not directly to the Leafs, but to Toronto, nonetheless. That's because Salming is a clothing manufacturer (mostly men's and women's underwear) in Sweden and has an agent in Toronto who sells the undergarments. He also has agents in other Canadian cities.

"In addition to the underwear business, I'm also involved in manufacturing sporting goods," Salming said. "We make Salming hockey sticks, pants, gloves and what have you. Business is good."

He is looking forward to watching a Leafs game while he is in town and analyze the team's defence. Who knows, he may have some observations to whisper into head coach Pat Quinn's ear. That is, if Quinn, a former robust NHL defenceman in his day, is willing to listen.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

The worlds of track and field and sports journalism have lost a valuable member with the recent passing of Istvan Gyulai. The Hungary-born former secretary general of the International Track and Field Federation and, prior to that, the secretary general of the International Sports Journalists Association (AIPS), was also the former head of Hungarian television's sports department. Gyulai, who leaves his wife, Krisztina, and two children, was buried in Monaco on Wednesday ... Congratulations to track champions Megan Brown of the University of Toronto and Christiano Mauricio of the University of Windsor on winning the Canadian university sports and VIA Rail awards as male and female athletes of the week.


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