TORONTO – The Grey Cup is in their own backyard this week but players on the Toronto Maple Leafs will also get a taste of an NFL tradition Thursday in Dallas.
The entire team will be in a private box at Texas Stadium to watch the Cowboys and New York Jets play on American Thanksgiving. The Leafs play the Stars on Friday night.
“It’s going to be awesome. I’m pumped,” Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft said Wednesday before the team flew to Dallas. “I’m looking forward to getting out there.
“I follow the Cowboys a fair bit so I’m looking forward to seeing them beat down on the Jets for sure.”
But what about the CFL? The Grey Cup classic between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan goes Sunday at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
“It’s definitely an NFL room in here,” Raycroft said after practice. “I think (Matt) Stajan is the only one who’s got tickets for the Grey Cup. He’s all fired up about that but he’s really the only one.”
Surely, Wade Belak must care. The Leafs tough guy hails from Saskatoon.
“I’m NFL too,” Belak said with a grin.
When pressed, however, he admitted he was happy to see the Green Riders in the Grey Cup.
“I mean, I want Saskatchewan to win,” said Belak, who predicted a 20-17 Riders victory. “I don’t even know who our starting quarterback is. I just know Kent Austin is the coach. And he’s a good coach.”
Alex Steen grew up in Winnipeg while his father Thomas Steen starred for the Winnipeg Jets. The Swedish winger remembers going to the odd Blue Bombers game.
“Being a Winnipeg boy you have to root for your team, right?” said Steen. “I saw (Bombers QB) Kevin Glenn went down so that’s a huge blow. But hopefully they’ll pull out the win.”
Like his teammates, Steen was excited about going to Texas Stadium.
“I enjoy football, it’s a lot of fun to watch,” said Steen. “The tactics and preparation that go into the game, it’s unbelievable. I’m really looking forward to the game.
“I also have a lot of Dallas players in fantasy pool so I’m hoping it’s a good one.”
It’s because of those fantasy pools that the NFL wins out on the CFL in the Leafs dressing room.
“NFL always,” said Leafs forward Nik Antropov, who hails from Kazakhstan. “It starts on Friday, the guys have all kinds of pools and stuff. The guys talk about it until Tuesday. All you hear is, ‘How did your (fantasy) team do?”‘
For Antropov the game in Dallas will be his first NFL experience.
“I had a chance four years ago in Oakland when we were playing San Jose but I skipped it,” he said with a laugh. “But it will be fun tomorrow. The Cowboys are on a roll right now at 9-1.
“So it should be good. I hope there’s lots of touchdowns.”
Leafs forward John Pohl, a native of Rochester, Minn., cherishes the U.S. Thanksgiving NFL tradition.
“I’ve seen every Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving game probably for the last 10 years,” said Pohl. “If you can’t be with your family on Thanksgiving it sure is a great second alternative to be at the game.
“It’s going to be really cool, I’m really pumped.”
As for the Grey Cup, Pohl admits he’s out to lunch.
“I know that it’s Canada’s big game but somehow Baltimore won it one year,” said Pohl. “That’s all I really know.”