Food for thought

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

The past three weeks were supposed to be an R & R exercise for me, but they turned out to be an emotional roller coaster.

The Maple Leafs failed to make the playoffs. Steve Stavro, one-time chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. and a friend for 50 years, passed away. Pat Marsden, a friend for more than 30 years and a broadcasting giant, lost his battle with lung cancer, a month after good friend and legendary Sun columnist Jim Hunt left us. Also, four brave Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

What else could happen to a man while he is supposed to be on vacation?

But, as they say in Hollywood North, the show must go on.

And so, I met Tomas Kaberle for lunch. He's the Maple Leafs' most-talented defenceman. I wrote four years ago that Kaberle is, in my opinion, the reincarnation of a young Doug Harvey, the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer.

Sitting in a downtown restaurant and munching on a salad plate, Kaberle talked, albeit briefly, about the situation in the Maple Leafs dressing room, the firing of coach Pat Quinn and about some of his future plans.

"It wasn't Pat Quinn's fault that we didn't make the playoffs," Kaberle said. "It was our (the players') fault. We should have played better."

I then asked whether some player politicking had anything to do with Quinn's dismissal.

"I don't know," Kaberle replied, cautiously. "I'm certainly not involved in dressing room politics. I don't know if any players are."

With a new contract in his pocket, Kaberle began making plans for staying permanently in Toronto.

"We are making changes to the condo we're staying in," he said. "We knocked out some walls and made the place bigger and more comfortable."

While the work goes on in the condominium, Kaberle left for his home in the Czech Republic before embarking on another hockey assignment.

"When I get to the Czech Republic, I'll join the national team for the world championship," he said. "That's why I have been working out daily at the Air Canada Centre and will continue to do so in Prague before our flight to the global tournament. I hope we'll do well."

His brother, Frantisek, who plays for the Carolina Hurricanes, still is in the thick of the NHL playoffs and unless his team gets knocked out by the Canadiens in the first round, he won't be joining Tomas on the Czech world championship team.

"My dad is a former Czechoslovak international who played for the Kladno team that defeated the Maple Leafs in a friendly at Maple Leaf Gardens a few years ago," Tomas Kaberle said. "He has joined my brother for the playoffs. Usually, my dad and mom fly over to visit me in Toronto, but this time it's Frantisek's turn."

Kaberle's main interest is for the Leafs to do well next season. He hopes that management will take action and bolster the team roster.

Maple Leaf fans are praying for the same.


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