The NHL's leading scorer is preternaturally bashful and conspicuously nifty right wing Phil Kessel. He hails from Madison, Wis., and he plays in the epicenter of Canadian—if not world—hockey, Toronto. This would be nothing more than a statement of fact if there were not more than a few long-suffering Maple Leafs fans (the franchise has not won a Stanley Cup since 1967) that view it as a statement of principle.
There are seven U.S.-born players among the 23 on the roster of Canada's Team, which proudly wears the national symbol on its sweater. That's higher than the percentage of Americans currently in the NHL—20.4%—but the number looms even larger because of their relative importance to the club. The streaky Kessel (above), who had 10 goals and eight assists through the Leafs' 3--2 loss to the Senators on Sunday, is blossoming into a star. Jake Gardiner, 21, a 2008 first-round pick, is a gilt-edged rookie defenseman. Center David Steckel ranks second in face-off percentage.
Steckel was one of three American off-season acquisitions by Toronto general manager Brian Burke, who hails from Edina, Minn., and who also was the G.M. of the silver-medal-winning 2010 U.S. Olympic team. The Maple Leafs' coach is Ron Wilson, Burke's button-pusher at the Olympics. In June, Burke hired two American assistant coaches: Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon, who was on Wilson's Olympic staff. Like many in the cross-pollinated hockey universe, Burke (previously the G.M. in Hartford, Vancouver and Anaheim) and Wilson (who was born in Windsor, Ont., but holds dual citizenship in the U.S.) comfortably work both sides of the border. But in Toronto, some fans' snide references to "Team USA" grate.
In an e-mail last week Burke growled to SI, "I have added Canadians: Dion [Phaneuf, the captain], [Clarke] MacArthur, [Matt] Frattin, [Cody] Franson, [ex-Leaf Fran√ßois] Beauchemin, [Joffrey] Lupul, [Colton] Orr ... and everyone talks about the Americans! I don't care where they're born. Looking for hockey players. Period."
Those who decry the Americanization of the Maple Leafs should look deeper than the hometowns of the G.M., the head coach and the club's top scorer. If you take a NAFTA-esque view, Toronto, which has four Europeans, seems closest in design to Burke's 2007 Cup-winning Ducks, whose roster had a fabulous Finnish scorer (Teemu Selanne), a third-line Swedish center (Sami Pahlsson) and a Russian backup goalie (Ilya Bryzgalov). There were 18 Canadians and only six Yanks in Anaheim. If Burke tilts anywhere, it is toward North Americans and not Americans.
To those flag-waving Torontonians: Oh, say, can't you see that?
THEY SAID IT
"Notre Dame does not need a tummy tuck or a face-lift. All you need to do is comb your hair and win a championship."
LOU HOLTZ Former ND coach, reacting to current coach Brian Kelly's suggestion that adding a JumboTron and artificial turf could "improve the atmosphere" in South Bend, where the Irish are out of the national title picture once again.
The Play's The Thing
Sports are everywhere on the Great White Way
Lysistrata Jones, about a college hoops team, previews on Broadway Nov. 12; Lombardi and That Championship Season had strong runs; Roberto Clemente and Rocky are getting musicals. It's hard to read the theater listings and not think of sports.
Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning reenact the Colts' QB's greatest line-of-scrimmage foot-pumping theatrics. Choreography by Jim Caldwell.
A cast of 11 South Enders walks through the final 24 games of the Red Sox season, imagining a magical world in which 6--18 didn't happen.
Mismatched Meadowlands tenants—stuffy Tom Coughlin; galootish Rex Ryan—try not to step on each other in this Odd Couple update.
A young cub named Matthew Stafford fights for his place in the pride. (And with Chicago and Carolina on tap, this could have an extended run.)
PHIL COLE/AP (HOLTZ)
GRAIG ABEL/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (KESSEL)