TORONTO – The Maple Leafs boast a predominantly Canadian roster with 20 players holding Canadian passports; however, many are struggling when it comes to deciding who to cheer for come Friday’s semifinal of men’s hockey at the Olympics, which features Leafs teammates Phil Kessel and James van Reimsdyk against the Canadians.
The Leafs were back on the ice Wednesday following an 10-day break. It apparently wasn’t long enough, as Team Canada’s 2-1 win over Latvia didn’t conclude before the Leafs began practice.
“I was thinking we might get a little delay, but it was nice to get out there,” said Tyler Bozak of watching Wednesday’s game.”
Bozak, a native of Regina, Sask., centres a line of Kessel and van Riemsdyk. He also shares an apartment with Kessel in Toronto. He has been in touch with his linemates during the break.
“They’re enjoying it, they said everything’s great,” said Bozak. “The village is nice, they’re meeting lots of new people and having fun. They’re winning lots of games and playing really well.”
When asked who he’d be cheering for in Friday’s rematch of the 2010 gold medal game, Bozak appeared on the fence.
“It’s going to be an exciting game to watch for sure. I really can’t make any predictions,” he said. “I don’t know…the U.S. has been playing great. Canada’s kind of snuck by with a few wins, but every game’s different and it should be a fun one to watch.
“I just hope Phil and JVR play really well and maybe Canada wins, I don’t know.”
Nazem Kadri, who spent his break along with Bozak and Frazer McLaren in the Caribbean, isn’t sure of Canada’s chances.
“I want to say Canada, but to be honest, I think the U.S. looks a little bit better,” said the London, Ont. native. “In tournaments like these, it’s all about one game, one period swing where that could be the difference.”
Sudbury, Ont. native, Randy Carlyle admitted cheering for Canada isn’t as easy as it may appear.
“I wish our players all the success in the world and I think it’s important for us to never lose sight of the fact that you’re part of a team, but again, I am Canadian,” said Carlyle, who spent his break in California. “There is things pulling at your heart strings in different directions that’s for sure.”
Kessel has been the talk of the tournament leading the way with five goals and eight points heading in to Friday’s game. He was also the topic de jour at the Leafs’ practice facility in Etobicoke Wednesday.
When asked if Kessel, who is second behind just Alexander Ovechkin in regular season scoring with 31 goals, has put himself amongst the best players in the NHL, Carlyle was quick to pump the breaks.
“That’s a big statement for anybody to come out and proclaim on any player. It takes a longer period of time than just five years (or) six years,” Carlyle said. “He’s not a one-dimensional player as people described him previously. He’s a guy who still has some things that we’d like him to stop doing, but he’s become more of a two-way player.”
Kadri, who according to Carlyle returned with the best-looking tan on the team, isn’t surprised at Kessel’s success in Sochi.
“I think we all knew Phil was going to achieve more especially on that big ice,” he said. “Not too many players in the league can skate with him so. Phil does a great job finding areas to get open.”
Carlyle admitted one player he is concerned about is Nikolai Kulemin. Kulemin was part of the Russian team, which fell 3-1 to Finland in the quarter-finals.
“Nobody asks questions about how you’re going to feel about Nikolai Kulemin coming back and that’s a tough one,” said Carlyle. “Host country and the way their tournament unravelled.
“He’s part of our hockey club and we’ve got to find a way to build him back up and get him going again.”
Notes: Injured forwards David Bolland (foot), Peter Holland (lace bite), Carter Ashton (hand) and Trevor Smith (undisclosed) were all participants in Wednesday’s 50 minute skate at the MasterCard Centre. Once Bolland, Smith and Ashton return from injured reserved, the Leafs will have 25 players on their active roster and will require some moves.