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Maple Leafs ready to start centennial celebration

Adding statues of Dave Keon, Turk Broda, Tim Horton begins yearlong festivities

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TORONTO -- An unveiling of bronze statues honoring three NHL legends on Thursday will officially begin the Toronto Maple Leafs' year-long centennial celebration.

Center Dave Keon, regarded by many to be the greatest player to pull on a Maple Leafs jersey, and two late icons -- goaltender Turk Broda and defenseman Tim Horton -- will be immortalized on Legends Row in Maple Leaf Square outside Air Canada Centre in a late afternoon ceremony.

The following day, the Maple Leafs will unveil a list of the 100 greatest players in their history, as determined by the vote of a 31-member selection committee and Maple Leafs fans.

The statues of Keon, Broda and Horton will join those of seven fellow Hall of Famers already in place on Legends Row: goaltender Johnny Bower, defenseman Borje Salming, and forwards Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, George Armstrong, Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin.

"There have been hundreds of great players who have worn the Maple Leaf sweater during the team's 99 seasons, but you would have a difficult time finding three players who are more loved, or better represent the greatness of this franchise and its history, than Dave Keon, Turk Broda and Tim Horton," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement when the Legends Row additions were announced last January. "Legends Row is a tribute to the men who helped make the Toronto Maple Leafs the one of the most iconic clubs in sports, but it's also an opportunity to build a strong connection between fans of all ages and that tradition. Adding the names Keon, Broda and Horton to the monument is a thrill for everyone in the organization and generations of Leaf fans."

Keon will be on hand for the unveiling Thursday, the iconic four-time Stanley Cup champion having returned to the Maple Leafs family last January after a lengthy estrangement.

In the mid-1970s, a bitter contract dispute with then-owner Harold Ballard prompted Keon's jump to the World Hockey Association. That, along with a philosophical difference between Keon and the NHL team about the way Maple Leafs legends were celebrated by the organization, drove a decades-long wedge into their relationship. It was a divorce some thought would last forever.

But the ice finally thawed in January when Keon, who led Toronto to four Stanley Cup championships in the 1960s, including the franchise's most recent Cup in 1967 -- returned to Air Canada Centre for the announcement that he, Broda and Horton would be honored on Legends Row.

The ceremony will include family members representing Broda, who helped the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup five times from 1942-51, and Horton, a teammate of Keon's on Toronto's four 1960s champions.

The Maple Leafs have promised "a historic centennial celebration" for the 2016-17 home opener against the Boston Bruins on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NHLN-US, NESN). The pregame ceremony is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. ET, with telecast of the festivities beginning a half-hour later on national television in Canada.

The history of this franchise is hugely important to Shanahan, who will have a large hand in a number of centennial projects this season into next.

Second-year Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has long been sharply tuned to and deeply respectful of hockey history, from his boyhood street-hockey days in northern Manitoba to a decade coaching the Detroit Red Wings before he arrived in Toronto last year.

Babcock, who guided Detroit to its most recent Stanley Cup championship in 2008, relished having Red Wings legends such as Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe often in his midst. He absorbed much of the wisdom of Scotty Bowman, who coached Detroit to championships in 1997, 1998 and 2002. Babcock has brought a number of traditions that pay respect to the past from the Red Wings to Toronto.

Additional events and celebrations of the Maple Leafs' centennial season will be announced as the 2016-17 season unfolds.

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