Leafs flooded with Americans

Phil Kessel address the media speaks to announce his acquisition from the Bruins. (Jack Boland/Sun...

Phil Kessel address the media speaks to announce his acquisition from the Bruins. (Jack Boland/Sun Media)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:21 AM ET

The Stanley Cup is on display just one subway station from the Air Canada Centre, but it's only a couple more stops to the American consulate on University Ave.

Going on 43 years without the former, Canada's team appears to be going the extra mile for the latter.

They are slowly but surely turning from the Maple Leafs into the Toronto Stars 'n' Stripes, a trickle when Ron Wilson was named coach last year to a red, white and blue torrent when general manager Brian Burke burst on the scene in January.

He made American-born Dallas Eakins the Marlies' coach and signed Christian Hanson at the head of the Leafs' big NCAA grad class. Hanson joined veteran forward Jason Blake, the first American to lead the Leafs in scoring in 20 years and Lee Stempniak. He did bring Canadians Francois Beauchemin and Garnet Exelby into the fold and Swede Jonas Gustavsson.

But Burke also went for a big slice of apple pie in free agent Mike Komisarek to run the blue line and perhaps the whole show as the club's first Yankee captain. Ex-Coyote and Penguin Bill Thomas was added on tryout.

On Friday, Burke mortgaged a chunk of the farm on Phil Kessel, sure to be the flashy face of the team until Nazem Kadri or someone else emerges.

Burke and Wilson aren't shy about their citizenship. They signed on to lead Team USA at the 2010 Olympics, Wilson promising to dig out the loud American-themed tie he wore when he beat Team Canada at the '96 World Cup.

This is quite a U-turn for a club that thinks it bleeds more maple syrup than the other five franchises combined, much to the amusement of its many detractors since 1967. And how would you feel in Hamilton, where the Leafs have been thwarting a seventh Canadian team for years, if Toronto were to get back in the Cup hunt on the wings of a bald eagle?

But Richard Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., hardly is going to question Burke's methods.

After trial and error, Peddie bowed to fans' request to get the best man for the job and then get the heck out of the way.

"Brian is the most Canadian non-Canadian I have ever met," Peddie said. "He gets hockey the Canadian way and gets Leafs Nation. Look at the way he is building his team. Brian has been a huge proponent of respecting and reinforcing Canadian hockey.

"But, ironically, he is American and will be our competitor come February. We joked the other day with Ron and Burkie whether we should honour them if they win a medal.

"Just as our fans support good non-Canadian players, our fans will continue to embrace them should the U.S. be successful."

The Leafs have tried some exotic spices many times before in trying to end their Cup jinx.

They trail blazed Sweden in the early '70s with Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom. Gerry McNamara mined the Czech Republic in the 1980s, uncovering a couple of good players before Harold Ballard drew the line at the expensive Miroslav Ihnacak folly.

Vincent Damphousse and Daniel Marois headed up a short-lived French Canadian fling before former USSR players became trendy after the Berlin Wall fell.

Mats Sundin heralded a new era of Scandinavian influence that extends to Vesa Toskala and Niklas Hagman. But it must be mentioned that the club's three runs to the Cup semifinals since 1993 featured Canadians in high office: Cliff Fletcher, Pat Burns, Pat Quinn, Doug Gilmour, Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Gary Roberts.

But after four years out of the playoffs, GTA son Matt Stajan doesn't care if Vulcans and Romulans are on his wing and doubts fans will either.

"We're all hockey players in here, playing the game we love," he said. "It doesn't matter where you're born -- Europe, the U.S., Canada. We all have good attitudes, we all have the same goal.

"Once you are in this room, it's how you play on the ice and how you treat your teammates. As of right now, we've been meshing great."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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