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Leafs, Habs feeling like kids again

by Dan Rosen /
TORONTODominic Moore was always Doug Gilmour. His brother Mark picked Guy Lafleur. On their street in Thornhill, Ont., it was always Habs vs. Leafs and it was always Hockey Night in Canada.

"You could be whatever player you wanted to be and it was always Saturday night no matter what day or night of the week it really was," Moore told "And, wouldn't you know, here we are. It's kind of your childhood dreams being fulfilled."

As you already know, Saturday night across this northern country is Hockey Night in Canada. When it's the Montreal Canadiens vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs like it was this Saturday night, well the stakes are just a little bit higher.

Toss in the fact that it just happened to be Habs vs. Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada over Hall of Fame Weekend and, well, Moore has to pinch himself just to remind himself that he's not dreaming anymore.

"I grew up here so when you grow up in the culture and tradition of these teams you appreciate it a lot more," Moore said Saturday morning inside the Maple Leafs' locker room. "You've been through the Hall of Fame and you know the history of the game and have respect for it, so you appreciate the moments you have a chance to be a part of."

Saturday night's Hall of Fame game, won by the Maple Leafs, 6-3, is one of those events that transcends.

At one point Saturday morning, you had Leafs coach Ron Wilson, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada who grew up in a hockey family from the Original Six era, saying that he'd "be like a kid in the candy store" greeting all the Hall of Famers before and after the game.

Sixteen honored members were introduced prior to the game, followed by the four who are being inducted Monday night.

"I love that," Wilson said.

Later, in a corner of the Leafs locker room, you had Ukrainian winger Alexei Ponikarovsky telling that he didn't realize how important the history and traditions of the game actually are until he arrived in North America eight years ago.

"Lots of times I have been to the Hockey Hall of Fame," Ponikarovsky said. "I know the history of hockey and what it means to this town especially. Every Saturday night is special. If we play Montreal, it's just crazy."

Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek, a native New Yorker, grew up reveling in the Islanders-Rangers rivalry. He also lived the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry.

"This one (Leafs-Habs) is bigger than both of those," Komisarek said.

Saturday night's event took it to a different level — if for no other reason than around each corner of the Air Canada Centre you could find another Hall of Famer telling stories. The guys who now dress in those legendary uniforms seem to understand the history they represent.

"You actually get to see all the Hall of Fame players and that's exciting in itself," Leafs backup goalie Curtis Joseph told "I love seeing those guys that came before you and are now Hall of Fame players. That's something special just to see any of those guys. They are special people and special players."

Joe Nieuwendyk, a potential future Hall of Famer who now works in the Leafs front office, predicted Saturday morning that the thrill of playing in such a game and seeing all the legends will have an effect on the young players especially.

"I only played one year in Toronto and when we played Montreal here I got chills down my spine because it was like a playoff game," Nieuwendyk told "It's no different now, especially with Hockey Hall of Fame weekend. It will be exciting to see the Hall of Famers on the ice, so it will be a big thrill for a lot of these young guys."

"It's a big game and we want to get the two points as much as Toronto does, but it's a big game because of the history," Montreal forward Tom Kostopoulos told after the morning skate. "It means a lot to the players because we're all fans of the game and we've followed it our entire lives."

Moore wouldn't go as far as saying Saturday's game was one he circled on his calendar as soon as the schedule was released, but he admitted it is a privilege to be a part of it, and one of the perks of playing for the Leafs.

"Being from here I have an advantage over some of the European guys," Moore said. "Look around the room. You see the names of the guys that came before you. An Original Six team is a privilege to play for, especially for the two teams that are playing tonight. Those are the most storied teams maybe in all of sports."

Which makes putting the theatrics of the evening aside even tougher. Wilson said in order for it to be a complete success, that's exactly what the two teams had to do.

Clearly, the Leafs did it better.

They outshot the Habs 41-20. Pavel Kubina, who had a goal and an assist, was named the Hockey Hall of Fame Game Player of the Game. Yvan Cournoyer and Borje Salming presented the trophy to Kubina.

Former Canadien Mikhail Grabovski, who now centers the Leafs' top line, also scored a goal and assisted on another. Nik Antropov had a goal and 2 assists and Niklas Hagman scored twice, Ponikarovsky had 1 and 1, and Tomas Kaberle and Matt Stajan each had a pair of assists.

"Our focus, and it has to be, is what is Montreal doing to put them where they are in the standings and what we have to do to get ourselves ready to play?" Wilson said in the morning. "We'll just talk about getting ourselves ready to play our game, the speed and attack style that when we're on top of things we're pretty good at."

Even though he wasn't expecting to play, Joseph said he was going to limit his revelry to the 15-minute pre-game ceremony honoring this year's inductees and current Hall of Famers.

It was pretty riveting.

"Maybe while the ceremonies are going on you get a real sense of it and it gives everybody in the building a real sense of history because they do a great job with it," Joseph said. "Once the puck is dropped, as a competitor and as we have been trained to do, you play against the guy across from you and nothing else matters."

Except, of course, for bragging rights.

Then again, throughout this storied rivalry, does anything matter more?

"As a player, these are the games you want to be in, the games you want to play," Komisarek said. "Montreal-Toronto, it doesn't get bigger than that. It's a great rivalry and there is always extra intensity and I don't know if you want to say hatred, but these are the games you want to make a mark and win on such a big stage.

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