Leaf Nation growing

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 8:02 AM ET

Leaf Nation now includes the White Dog First Nations reserve in a remote part of Northern Ontario, thanks to defenceman Tomas Kaberle.

He helped fund a trip for a nine-person team of eight-year-old hockey players this weekend, taking in tonight's game against the New York Rangers, as well as the Hockey Hall Of Fame, dinner at Wayne Gretzky's restaurant and a trip to the Czech consulate. The kids arrive this morning after a three-hour bus trip to Winnipeg Airport and a two-and-a-half hour flight.

"I had some letters from them and I seem to be their hero," Kaberle said earlier. "You want the kids in that area to do as well as possible."

Richard Krpac, the Czech Consul General in Toronto, had been to visit a countryman who was teaching on the reserve.

"I saw all the excitement the kids had for the Maple Leafs, for players such as Tomas and Mats Sundin," Krpac said, "With the idea of a trip to Toronto, we succeeded getting on board all the prominent members of the Czech community such as Hana Gartner, Joe Schlesinger, Thomas Bata and other big names. Eventually I served as a patron of a successful fund-raising evening (Nov. 7 at Hart House) in Toronto.

"All credit should go to the Czech community for trying to give something back to Canada. We all feel grateful to Canada for opening its' arms and welcoming waves of Czechs in the most difficult times, especially after 1948 when Communists seized power or after the Russians came in 1968."

LOOSE LEAFS

Get out your calculators tonight if recent Leaf -- Ranger games are any indication. There have been 49 combined goals the past seven meetings ... Scott Clemmensen would be the first Iowan to play for the Leafs, but the goaltender is not alerting anyone in Des Moines just yet. He is backing up Andrew Raycroft and ready to rejoin the Toronto Marlies once Vesa Toskala gets healthy. "You always want to play, but I'm not going to expect it and won't get mad if I don't," said Clemmensen, who was Martin Brodeur's seldom-used back-up in New Jersey.


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