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Tradition is Leafs foundation

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

TORONTO - For fans following the Toronto Maple Leafs it's simply a way of life.

That kind of adoration has made the team one of the most successful franchises in National Hockey League history and the organization's ability to stay connected to its past has been a large part of that accomplishment.

The Leafs have been celebrating their 75th anniversary throughout the season but it will climax Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres. The team will wear the green, brown and white uniforms of their former incarnation, the Toronto St. Pats, to commemorate decades of tradition.

In addition, the Leafs Top 25 players of all-time, who were named by a 14-person panel of Leaf observers, will be honoured as a collective group in ceremonies before the game.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone through a lot of changes during the last decade and re-establishing contact with its roots has been one of the most important initiatives.

"Tradition is stories, it's connectors, the longer a team exists the more possibility that you have of experiences with that team," Leafs president Ken Dryden said. "All of those (the experiences) are their own memories that emanate out of it. The longer a team has been around, the more strongly people feel about that team and the more vivid the memories."

The team began planning its festivities over a year ago and had to deal with a few obstacles to get it done. First was getting the NHL to approve the one-time, throw-back jersey. Once that came through the next stumbling block was the Olympic break. It fell on the franchise anniversary date of February 14, so the team bumped it up to March 2.

Having a history and a massive following, like the Leafs do, is a selling point for players. It helped bring veterans Shayne Corson, Gary Roberts and Curtis Joseph in as free agents. Not surprisingly the tradition even makes an impact on those who don't know about it.

"I think it's great. You could tell from the first day when I got here that the organization is really proud of their history," Mikael Renberg said. "I mean even in games you see old players sitting in the stands and people go nuts and I think that's awesome."

Leafs captain Mats Sundin is a big part of the team's history and he relishes it.

"I know it means a lot to the people of Toronto and to myself, I feel honoured to play for one of the biggest traditional teams and the biggest hockey history teams in the world, so I'm excited about that," Sundin said. "I was part of moving down to the Air Canada Centre from Maple Leaf Gardens. It feels like you're part of hockey history when you see all this stuff going on."

Guys edging closer to the end of their careers, like Roberts, enjoy it when former players are recognized for their past accomplishments.

"It's nice to look back and appreciate the people in the past that put the organization where it is today, all the great players that came through here. For that reason it's special," Roberts said.

There are many players who have entrenched themselves in Maple Leafs lore and Tie Domi has done that with his fearless play and rugged personality. Domi knows what the team means to the fans, the city and even the country.

"There's a lot of tradition and obviously we're proud to be Maple Leafs," Domi said. "We try to carry that tradition as much as we can. It would be quite a year if we could end it on a good note."

That good note being the Stanley Cup.
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