The Maple Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks tangle tonight and like the best games it promises to be a family feud.
Yes, the Hawks have won seven straight, outscoring their opponents 28-16 along the way. The Hawks haven’t lost in regulation since Feb. 18. The Leafs last regulation loss was Feb. 12.
The Hawks are three points out of eighth. The Leafs are there points shy of the last playoff spot.
But peek past the standings and you find another storyline. The Stanley Cup champs and the aspiring Leafs don’t just lean to the West, they are built on players who were born west of Ontario which, goalie James Reimer
will tell you is The West.
“I’m absolutely a Western kid,” said Reimer, a kid from a tiny-Morweena, Manitoba and the player most responsible for salvaging what seemed an ill-fated season.
Reimer played three years with the Red Deer Rebels and to hear him tell it, playing against opponents you knew on a first-name basis as a kid, made for a competitiveness that readied him for the next rung.
“When you are playing players you know or players from other centres, there is always that great competition,” he said.
Three of the Leafs six defenceman, Luke Schenn
(Saskatoon), Dion Phaneuf
(Edmonton) and Keith Aulie (Rouleau, Sask) are Westerners. So are Reimer and forwards Colby Armstrong
(Lloydminster, Sask)Clarke MacArthur
(Lloydminster, Alb), Joffrey Lupul
(Fort Saskatchewan, Alb), Jay Rosehill
(Olds, Alb) and Tyler Bozak
Three of the Leafs’ top prospects, the Marlies’ Joe Colborne
(Calgary) and Portland’s Bradley Ross (Edmonton) are Albertans. So is the Leafs top collegiate prospect, Matt Frattin
of Edmonton, a 21-year-old who has scored 28 goals in his final season at North Dakota.
The Hawks, meanwhile, will field an all-Western starting defence of Brent Seabrook of Richmond, BC, and Winnipegger Duncan Keith.
The Hawks’ leading scorer Jonathan Toews is from Winnipeg. So is their number two scorer, Patrick Sharp. Fifteen of the 40 players who will play tonight, 37 per cent, hail from Western Canada.
If you want to know why, just ask a Westerner.
“Most of the Western guys will tell you it’s growing up with good coaching all the way up,” said Bozak.
”Western Canadian kids in general are down to earth and brought up the right way,” said Schenn.
“You learn from a very early age to work for what you get.”
There could be a version of hockey Darwinism at play. With fewer players seeing hockey as a way to unfathomable riches and fame, competition is ferocious.
When you play in the Western League, you to go battle,” said Aulie. “The closest bus ride is five hours. You learn to live away from home at a very young age and you learn to take your schoolwork with you on the bus.”