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PM Still Part of Leafs Nation

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

December 22, 2006

OTTAWA (CP) -- Who exactly is included in the definition of a "Leafs nation"?

As far as Prime Minister Stephen Harper is concerned, he's a member of that distinct society of hockey fans that supports the team that hasn't won a Stanley Cup in 40 years.

"I'd be optimistic for the Leafs nation, but if you're part of the Leaf's nation, you have to be an optimist,'' Harper told Toronto's OMNI television network in an interview to be aired Thursday.

Harper went on to praise the Toronto Maple Leafs' current roster, and rated their chances of going all the way.

"I think the Leafs are really coming together as a franchise. I really like the team this year,'' said Harper, a long time hockey aficionado.

"I think it's got no obvious weaknesses. It's got good balance: some decent defence, some decent goaltending, a bright young forward corps that's coming along, and if they can develop quickly without (captain Mats) Sundin aging too quickly, I think they're going to be a contender, maybe not this year, maybe in a year or too.''

Harper is writing a book on the early history of Canadian hockey. His son Ben plays in rinks around Ottawa, and Harper told Global Television it's one of the things that keeps him grounded.

"I'm a hockey dad, I get to the rink. I talk to a range of a parents there about what's going on.''

Harper was asked which hockey player exemplifies the qualities of leadership that he most admires.

"I think it would be hard historically to say there was a greater leader than Mark Messier,'' Harper said of the charismatic six-time Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe trophy winner. "Talented, tough, great player and inspired others.''

But he went on to say that his childhood favourites were Leafs stars Dave Keon and Borje Salming, two stellar players that he suggested embodied his own personality type.

"They weren't kind of rah-rah guys in the dressing room, but they were extremely disciplined, with a little bit of talent that always worked hard on the ice and always put out every shift and contributed a lot to the team and moved the team forward without maybe the forceful personality of Messier,'' he said. "They were players I could identify with, although I never had the talent of any of those guys.''

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