May to play 1,000th game

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson doesn't always come across as a ray of sunshine.

Slapped with the nickname Napoleon by Don Cherry and described in even less-flattering terms by some members of the Toronto hockey media (usually after being lectured by the first-year Leafs coach), Wilson, nevertheless, has a humane, even kind, side to his personality.

Particularly when it involves his players.

One example of that thoughtfulness occurred on March 21 in Montreal, when Wilson started rookie defenceman Phil Oreskovic, who was playing his first game at the Bell Centre -- a gesture that Oreskovic appreciated. Another example will come to light this week.

Leafs GM Brian Burke confirmed yesterday that Wilson purposely sat veteran forward Brad May out of a game late this season (likely the Feb.26 game at the New York Islanders) to guarantee that when May plays his 1,000 career NHL game this season, it will be against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Leafs host Buffalo on Wednesday in the club's second-last regular season game. It's also expected the Sabres will present May with a gift in a ceremony prior to the game.

May, 37, has spent 17 seasons in the NHL, but his most memorable were with the Sabres, the club that draft him 14th overall in the 1990 Entry Draft.

"I had the most unbelievable experience in Buffalo," May told Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News last week. "It's so cool that it has come full circle, that I'm going to play this game against Buffalo. It's so much a part of me and my family. I have no bitterness toward the Buffalo Sabres whatsoever."

May spent six full seasons with Buffalo before being traded to the Vancouver Canucks for skilled forward Geoff Sanderson during his seventh year with the team, and was an integral part of the Sabres' tough and successful squads during the mid 1990's. He became one of the most popular players in Sabres history, mainly as a result of his bone-crunching hits, passion and his willingness to drop the gloves. But he is best remembered for a series-winning goal in the 1993 Adams Division semifinals against the Boston Bruins.

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The goal was the result of a spectacular move around all-star defenceman Ray Bourque, that was further memorialized by the "May Day! May Day!" call of famed Sabres broadcaster Rick Jeanneret.

May harbours no ill-will towards the Sabres, but admits he was very disappointed with the trade to Vancouver during the 1997-98 season. Still, he has nothing but fond memories of his time in The Queen City -- the place his son Tyler was born -- and the franchise.

"I'll never forgot those days," he said. "The Bills going to the Super Bowls and our team was exciting to watch. It was pretty amazing. It was fun, man, playing hockey in Buffalo. I always thought I was going to be a lifer in Buffalo."

May has not ruled out the possibility of playing again next year.

The Leafs are in New Jersey to face the Devils tomorrow, host the Sabres Wednesday, before ending their season at home against Battle of Ontario rivals, the Ottawa Senators.


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