Maple Leafs Contented and Chirpy

By HOWARD BERGER

VANCOUVER (Nov. 2) – I had a wonderful time here yesterday, covering hockey practice at Rogers Arena early in the afternoon; writing a story on James Reimer for the National Post later in the day and hooking up with an old media pal for the Calgary Stampeders-B.C. Lions football game at night.

Still, I wasn’t as happy as your Toronto Maple Leafs.

Winning in the National Hockey League must be the absolute joy of joys. Rarely in my time around the game have I heard a group of multi-millionaires relishing in one another as did the high-flying Buds at the home of the Vancouver Canucks. Leafs conclude their three-game, western-Canada journey at 4 p.m. today (7 p.m. EST on Hockey Night In Canada), looking to win here for the first time in a decade and sweep a Calgary-Edmonton-Vancouver trip for the first time since March 2000.

If rapture and delight play a role, Leafs will destroy the Canucks.

“We’re no different than any team – winning makes life around the rink very nice,” said coach Randy Carlyle after his players whooped, hollered and guffawed through a 70-minute workout, sounding more like a herd of pre-‘teens playing road hockey. “Our guys won both games in [Alberta] then had a full day off here [Thursday]. They came here today rested and feeling good about themselves.”    

LEAFS IN RARE SERIOUS MOMENT DURING PRACTICE AT ROGERS ARENA FRIDAY.

Hockey players – no matter the circumstance – frequently talk to reporters about “great guys” in the dressing room. A team can be 15 games under .500 (I’ve covered several of them) and will continue to emphasize “we have a great group in here.” I was reminded of this when listening in on Matt Stajan’s post-game media scrum the other night in Calgary. Matt has gone virtually his entire 10-year career without tasting success – the first six-plus with the downtrodden Maple Leafs before the Dion Phaneuf trade sent him west. As he talked to reporters after the loss to his former team, Stajan repeated so many of the words he had spoken repeatedly in Toronto. Things like, “we have to continue to stick together”… “we know in this room what we can do”… “we can’t get down on ourselves… “it’s just one game but we have to be better.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard such cliche babble through the years, I’d be in Stajan’s tax bracket.

Teams that are flourishing do not make excuses, or promises to one another. Their talking is done on the ice – in games and practices. Though a mere 14 games into the season, Maple Leafs have clearly assumed the latter posture. Winning is bloody-well fun. And, never was it more evident than during a jovial hour yesterday here in Vancouver.

Now, from words to images, courtesy of my trusty Nikon:

YOU CANNOT SEE MUCH OF ROGERS ARENA FROM THE OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW – WITH AN OVERPASS ON ONE SIDE AND CONSTRUCTION ON THE OTHER.

HARD TO BELIEVE IT IS COMING UP ON FOUR YEARS SINCE SIDNEY CROSBY SCORED THE “GOLDEN GOAL” FOR CANADA INTO THE NET PICTURED ABOVE AND BELOW. JONATHAN BERNIER OCCUPIED THE SPOT YESTERDAY ON WHICH RYAN MILLER WAS BEATEN FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE 2010 WINTER OLYMPICS. 

          

THE VIEWING ANGLE I HAD OF CROSBY’S GOAL ON FEB. 28, 2010 – FROM SEC. 106 OF ROGERS ARENA, WHERE MEDIA BROADCAST LOCATIONS WERE CLUSTERED.

THE “RUSSIAN ROCKET” – PAVEL BURE – WILL HAVE HIS NO. 10 JERSEY RETIRED BY THE CANUCKS IN A PRE-GAME CEREMONY TONIGHT. BURE’S BANNER WILL JOIN THOSE PREVIOUSLY HONORED BY THE HOCKEY CLUB (BELOW).

BERNIER WORKS ON ANGLE SHOTS DURING PRACTICE.

NORTH SIDE OF ROGERS ARENA, BEHIND PENALTY BENCHES AND BENEATH THE JIM ROBSON BROADCAST GONDOLA (TOP-LEFT); LEAFS STUDYING AT BOARDS (RIGHT).

RANDY AND THE MINIONS.

CALGARY STAMPEDERS at B.C. LIONS

B.C. PLACE STADIUM, LIT UP AND READY TO GO BEFORE LAST NIGHT’S CANADIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE GAME BETWEEN B.C. LIONS AND CALGARY STAMPEDERS.

I HAD PRETTY GOOD SEATS, WOULDN’T YOU SAY?

AT GAME WITH ANOTHER OF MY OLD LEAF TRAVELLING PALS – MATT SEKERES – CURRENTLY MID-DAY CO-HOST ON TSN RADIO’S THE TEAM-1040 HERE IN VANCOUVER.

IN THE TRENCHES AND AMID THE CAVERNOUS DOME.

VISITED THE TSN BROADCAST BOOTH AT HALFTIME AND SAID HELLO TO FRIENDS AND FORMER COLLEAGUES GORD MILLER (TOP-LEFT) AND MATT DUNIGAN.

B.C. PLACE WAS DRAMATICALLY RETRO-FITTED AFTER THE 2010 WINTER OLYMPICS.

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