No Leafs, no problem

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

Surrounded by a triple-case of playoff fever on its borders, Leafs Nation is going to lose some sleep in the coming days.

The Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings are all in the Stanley Cup semi-final and don't think Toronto fans won't hear about it as their closest geographical rivals work their way toward the final.

But the Leafs don't think they will lose fans.

"If we were in a sustained period of missing the playoffs it would be different," said Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and COO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. "But we missed the playoffs by a point. We know winning is what counts and that we're not there is disappointing, but I don't see us eroding."

Anselmi says he has a new perspective on what hockey means in Canada after getting back from Afghanistan this week. He was one of the Leafs reps when the six Canadian teams sent delegations for an alumni tour of the armed forces base. About 1,500 personnel showed their favourite team colours to the visitors, but really it was all about a chance for the war-weary to see someone from home, view the Stanley Cup and just take a break from their difficult mission.

And last week at a breakfast for Ottawa-area businessmen, Senators' Toronto-born owner Eugene Melnyk told Leafs fans they should get behind his team, the last Canadian entry in the tournament. Montreal was the most recent Canadian club to win the Cup in 1993, with Toronto ending Ottawa's chances four times in playoffs, but unable to break its own 40-year curse.

"All you Leafs fans, all I can say is get on the bandwagon because we're going all the way this year," Melnyk said. "C'mon, we're here, you're there and we want you here. If we were knocked out and it was Calgary (still alive), I'd be watching every single game. If it was Vancouver, I'd be watching every single game."

LANCE. HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA

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