From Little Italy to Chinatown to the Gerrard India Bazaar, there is a new accent on hockey in Toronto.
A plan that could see a city-wide senior hockey league stocked with graduated juniors and former pros and culled from as many as 12 to 16 of Toronto's ethnic neighborhoods, takes its first small step today (3 p.m.) at Art Thompson Arena. There will be three exhibition games -- Croatians versus the Irish, Greeks against Russians and Japanese against Polish. A game between Japanese and Chinese players in Toronto a month ago drew 350, with no prior announcements or advertising.
A larger gathering of teams already is set up for next season's Canadian Multicultural Hockey Tournament, designed to serve as a league model and gauge the level of talent. Former Maple Leafs Mark Osborne (Ukraine), Peter Zezel (Serbia) and Nikolai Borschevsky (Russia) are involved as either players, coaches or spokesmen.
EVOLVE INTO A LEAGUE?
"I think it's a great opportunity to say what Toronto and Canada are all about," said Osborne, whose name was Anglicized from Osypowich after his grandparents arrived in Canada. "What better way to embrace the culture than to play hockey? Peter and I like the idea, but we'll see what the hockey landscape looks like after the NHL lockout."
If the tournament evolves into a league as hoped, the benefits include providing a home for good players to hang their helmet after their junior careers, a raft of new fans for hockey and improved community spirit through new hockey role models.
"I look at the Wexford Hockey Association, which just folded because of the changing demographics in that part of Scarborough," Osborne said. "They play a lot of cricket and soccer and they're absorbed in their own community. Yet you look at all the different countries in the (B and C pools) of the world hockey championships and see on TV they're playing hockey now in Northern India and Tibet."
Osborne, who also does hockey analysis for The Score, says the Leafs alumni or NHL alumni could be approached to stage an exhibition game to promote the ethnic tournament later this year.
Zezel confirmed yesterday he will play for Serbia.
"Our team includes a lot of guys who used to play with Red Star in Belgrade, Yugoslavia," Zezel said. "I hope we can get this to be as popular as the Italian League games were on TV in Toronto years ago."