No sympathy for Leafs at Wing-ding

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

DETROIT -- Shortly after 7 p.m. this evening, NHL legends Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio will be among 100 Motown Maniacs carrying the 2007-08 Stanley Cup banner onto the ice at Joe Louis Arena, much to the glee of a red-clad capacity crowd.

No disrespect to Howe, 80, and Delvecchio, 76, but these two greats are so old, they actually were in the league when the Maple Leafs last won a Stanley Cup in 1967.

Now, some 41 years later, Howe and Delvecchio will help Hockeytown celebrate the Wings' fourth championship in 11 years.

While this well-earned Wings hysteria is going on, one can't help but wonder what Howe and Delvecchio must be thinking when they glance over at some of the Maple Leafs players. Not in their wildest dreams, could the pair have predicted the four-plus decade title drought the Leafs have gone through.

Given that Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher recently suggested this edition of the Leafs is almost like an expansion team, that dry spell is unlikely to end soon.

Of course, the modern-day Wings -- even the likes of Toronto native Kris Draper -- have little sympathy for the plight of the Leafs. Nor should they. Leafs management and ownership have been the authors of their own demise. No excuses.

Asked yesterday by a reporter if he felt sorry for the state of the Leafs, Draper, who paraded the Cup aboard a fire truck through his parents' Scarborough neighbourhood this summer, said no. In fact, Draper said he gets great satisfaction decking himself out in Red Wings garb and marching through Toronto in the off-season.

Inside the Wings dressing room, several cubicles away from Draper, Guelph native Kirk Maltby addressed a bold statement made by Leafs forward Matt Stajan in yesterday's Toronto Sun.

Stajan said the Leafs will "go in there and do everything we can to get that first win ... It's going to be a thrill beating the Stanley Cup champs."

Beat the Wings? Isn't that dumping fuel on the proverbial fire?

Maltby, like his teammates, didn't seem concerned.

"It brings attention to the game and there is nothing wrong with that," he said.

"Hey, I was a Leafs fan as a kid. I know about hard times. I grew up in the Harold Ballard era."

Some figure the inexperienced Leafs are like lambs to the slaughter, having to line up against a pumped-up Detroit team looking to take no prisoners after the emotional pre-game ceremony.

Truth is, the league WANTED the Leafs to be the visitors for this opening night, part of its NHL Face-Off Rocks promotion that will feature 1980s hair band Def Leppard cranking out its tune C'mon C'mon at the nearby Fox Theatre prior to the game. The pre-game show will be aired on both CBC and Versus.

"The reason Toronto was picked was that we thought having a popular Original Six matchup would be a good way to kick things off," said NHL executive VP of marketing Brian Jennings, adding the league hopes to make the rock band-hockey relationship an annual event.

LEARNING EXPERIENCE

One thing Fletcher and coach Ron Wilson deserve credit for: They are encouraging the Leafs to experience the banner-raising ceremony rather than hide in the sanctuary of the dressing room, the way some visiting teams do.

As they watch Howe and Delvecchio help bring in the banner, Toronto players will get a taste of how champions are adored. If it makes some of these kids hungrier to snap the championship dry spell, well, all the better.


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