Not Lost In Translation
by Stephen Knight
It's well documented that the game of hockey is a world sport. National Hockey League rosters are dominated by Russians, Swedes, Finns, Czechs, Americans and Slovaks, with a few Latvians, Ukrainians, Germans and Swiss thrown in for good measure.
But for the American Hockey League's St. John's Maple Leafs, the top farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the roster looks more like the House of Commons than the United Nations.
Of the team's 27 players, just one, goaltender Mikael Tellqvist, hails from outside North America. And when it comes to skaters, the Baby Leafs are an all-Canadian squad, with the exception of defenceman Andy Wozniewksi, who is a native of Buffalo Grove, Ill. The 24-year-old blueliner played three seasons for the University of Wisconsin Badgers and was signed as a free agent by the Leafs in April.
Excluding Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, the Baby Leafs feature players representing every province except New Brunswick.
The heavy Canadian flavour of the St. John's Maple Leafs does not seem to be affecting the team in a negative way in the AHL standings so far this season.
As of late November, the team had a 9-6-0-1 win-loss-overtime loss-shootout loss record, good for 19 points and a share of third place in the Western Conference's North Division.
"To state the obvious, it gives the team a North American flavour," says Paul Dennis, Player Development Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "We have high-energy [U.S. college] and [Canadian Hockey League] players."
The AHL can be a rough-and-tumble place as young prospects try to impress the big club and older players try to hold on to the dream of making a living playing hockey before time catches up with them. One thing is certain about the maple syrup running through the roster of the Baby Leafs this season, it's made the team tough on the ice.
With a combined 454 penalty minutes, the Leafs are tied for 10th in most penalized category. This, of course, doesn't always help a team, but it does make opponents wary when they venture into Mile One Stadium in the Newfoundland capital to play the baby blue and white.
"Some games are just undisciplined," says Dennis of the Baby Leafs' robust penalty-minute total.
With the Baby Buds scheduled to move to Toronto for the 2005-06 season, the players seem determined to give fans on The Rock a rousing farewell campaign. The team has a sparkling 7-2-0-0 record at home, tied for second in the 28-team league for most home wins.
Though fans are no doubt loving the Canadian content on the squad, Dennis says the team's composition was incidental.
"It wasn't by design," he says. "We didn't have European players who were ready to come over to the AHL." Dennis says some of the Leafs' notable European prospects such as Alexander Steen (24th overall in 2002), Roman Kukumberg (113th in 2004) and Staffan Kronvall (285th in 2002) are being well trained in European elite leagues.
Of the 25 Canadians on the St. John's Maple Leafs, nine hail from Ontario, three each from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, two each from Manitoba and Quebec and one each from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Left-winger Harold Druken is the only St. John's native on the team and with six goals and seven assists in 14 games, he seems comfortable playing in front of friends and family.
Stephen Knight is a Toronto-based writer and editor.