Feud to add new chapter

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Mikhail Grabovski's face was clenched in a rebellious sneer, the type of look you get from a five-year-old when you plop a plate of Brussels sprouts in front of him.

Only it was not any kind of vegetable that had the Maple Leafs rookie repulsed on this day.

It was the Kostitsyns.

Grabovski had just been informed that his potential showdown against the Montreal Canadiens' Sergei Kostitsyn tomorrow was eliciting the type of hype in la belle province that promoter Don King would be proud of.

"I don't care about that," Grabovski said yesterday.

"Or him."

Maybe he should.

Because like it or not, the Grabovski-Kostitsyn feud has become a juicy topic heading into the weekend, especially inside the Habs dressing room at the Bell Centre.

Sergei Kostitsyn, in fact, seemed to be downright gleeful, according to observers, when informed that Grabovski had been made a healthy scratch by Leafs coach Ron Wilson for the game in Buffalo on Wednesday.

"Scratched ...? Good," Kostitsyn said.

Wilson is expected to put Grabovski back in the lineup for the game, which will be broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada. And to hear some of the Habs talk, it will be The Battle of the Belarusians in front of a national television audience.

"I think it would be really funny," said Canadiens tough guy Georges Laraque of a potential Grabovski-Sergei Kostitsyn scrap, referring to the diminutive pair as "two little midgets."

"They're both competitive kids with a lot of fire, so if it happens, it would be quite interesting," added Canadiens defenceman Ryan O'Byrne.

So who would come out on top?

"In this situation, I've got to take Sergei. He's the bigger guy, he plays a little meaner out there and, in a fight, I think he'd win," O'Byrne said.

The feud between the countrymen seemed to be fanned when Sergei Kostitsyn was slapped with a 10-minute misconduct for taking a run at Grabovski during the Leafs' 6-3 win over Montreal at the Air Canada Centre on Nov. 8. Two months later, on Jan, 8, the pair actually threatened to scrap, with Grabovski eventually earning a three-game suspension for making contact with linesman Scott Cherrey while attempting to get at Kostitsyn.

Grabovski waved to the jeering Bell Centre throng as he skated off the ice, sparking a war of words afterward.

Asked about what spawned the ill-will, Andrei Kostitsyn told reporters that Grabovski "talks too much in the Russian newspapers about me and my brother."

Grabovski responded by claiming that "if (Sergei) wants to fight, we'll go in the street and every minute of every day I'll wait for him and we'll fight."

Yesterday, Grabovski tried to play down the chatter. But, in the end, he couldn't help himself.

"It's just a game, a regular game for me," he said. "I just have to keep it simple."

But what about the rivalry? "Well, maybe there is a little bit of one because they were my first team," Grabovski said.

You can bet that Wilson and general manager Brian Burke will not only be watching how Grabovski handles himself, but how the rest of the Leafs come to the kid's defence as well.

One of the issues dogging the Leafs the past few seasons is their perceived reluctance to aid a teammate when things get down and dirty.

"He's not out there alone," Wilson said of Grabovski. "If any of the stuff happens, we need guys there to ride shotgun and help him out."

But will the presence of Sergei Kostitsyn continue to distract him, not to mention the continuous booing of the Montreal crowd each time he touches the puck?

Obviously the Montreal fans have not forgotten his refusal to fly coach on one of the team's road trips last season, opting to stay behind instead.

"I don't care about that," Grabovski repeated.

"Or him."

We'll see.


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