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In The CreaseIn The Crease Eastern Conference Notebook: SI piece rankles Toronto

Sunday, November 17, 2002

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

An article in the the new Sports Illustrated entitled, "Why everyone hates the Leafs," drew plenty of derision of its own in Canada's largest city. Especially from inside the Maple Leafs' locker room.

"Sports Illustrated? They write about hockey?" Tie Domi told reporters. "I didn't know that."

The thrust of the article, penned by senior writer Michael Farber, is best described by his line that the Maple Leafs are the NHL's "most notorious band of whiners, divers and cheap-shot artists." He went on to describe them as "the New York Yankees of hockey, save for the championships and the quiet dignity."

Among those quoted are the Penguins' Ian Moran, who said, "They expect to get all the calls but, when something is called against them, they whine. It's non-stop."

Other players were quoted as saying the Toronto franchise gets special favors from the NHL because the league's hockey operations are based in the same city.

Not all of the Maple Leafs were indignant.

"We are a pretty mouthy bunch, and I have enough friends around the league to know that we are disliked," Alyn McCauley said. "My Dad subscribes to SI, and I won't get him to cancel."

Perhaps the most telling response came from Ed Belfour when told his team was proclaimed the league's most despised: "By the referees?"

Is it possible the Bruins are a bigger surprise story than the Lightning or the Wild? They were supposed to be devastated by the off-season losses of Bill Guerin and Byron Dafoe, the holdout of Kyle McLaren, and injuries to Martin Lapointe and Sergei Samsonov. But they're the No. 1 team in the NHL this week. "This has been accomplished by players believing in themselves," General Manager Mike O'Connell told the Boston Herald. "They believe they are good players, regardless of what was said about them."

Bruce Cassidy, the Capitals' rookie coach, just can't seem to get by without asking for Jaromir Jagr's input. Mystified by his team's lackluster power play in the early going, he met with Jagr for 45 minutes Tuesday to plot new strategy.

The Thrashers' three-game winning streak has lifted the ax from above Curt Fraser's head. For now.

The Panthers' Peter Worrell ducking fights? No way. Couldn't be. But it is. Because of a nagging sprained thumb, he has engaged in only three fights this season, none since Oct. 24. What's happening instead is that opponents are trying to goad him, then drawing solo roughing minors.

It's happening all over: The Flyers drew a crowd of 18,834 Wednesday for a 1-1 tie with the Panthers. That's the first time since Nov. 14, 1996 that Philadelphia's attendance dipped below 19,000. As they say in politics, it's the economy, stupid.

Much as Mario Lemieux did a few years back, the Canadiens' Saku Koivu launched a foundation to raise $8 million for improved cancer treatment in Montreal. Koivu, who missed most of last season to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, said his illness awoke him to the importance of health care. "The challenge of battling cancer was the greatest I have ever faced," he wrote for the foundation's Web site. "It made me realize to what extent life is fragile and how, in a time of need, the proper care is of the utmost importance."

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