Memory lane on Tobacco Road

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

Without having set eyes on the Carolina Hurricanes 2005-06 Stanley Cup banner, Jeff O'Neill yesterday predicted it would be a doozy.

"I know how they do things in the south, and if that's the case it'll be pretty big,"O'Neill said. "It'll be hard to miss."

O'Neill, Bates Battaglia, coachPaulMaurice and assistant coach Randy Ladouceur, all former members of the Hurricanes organization, will get the opportunity to see it first hand tonight when the Maple Leafs meet the Hurricanes at the RBCCenter.

The hot story line of the week has centred around Maurice's return to Carolina for the first time as Leaf coach, an occasion that comes exactly three years to the day that he was fired by the Hurricanes.

But it's also a homecoming of sorts for O'Neill,Battalglia and Ladouceur. Battaglia and Ladouceur make their initial appearances on Tobacco Road as members of the Toronto organization, something O'Neill experienced a year ago.

"It's a little uncomfortable walking in there to the visitors locker room,"O'Neill said.

"The first time was a tough one. After that the booing took over. You just don't really care any more. You just go out there and try to win games.

"Having said that, it's obviously disappointing that you leave one year and they immediately go out and win the StanleyCup."

Battaglia, like O'Neill, had more than their share of run-ins with Maurice in Carolina.

And vice versa.

In fact, Maurice told the Raleigh News-Observer that both are now easier to deal with because they are not kids any more.

"They've played for other people, and I'm not the ogre Bates once thought I was,"Maurice said. "I'm not Darth Vader."

Battaglia still lives inCarolina in the off-season and is part owner of a bar called Lucky B's.

"I would like to go out there and show (the Hurricanes) what they lost,"Battaglia said.


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