Follow the Leader
The maple leafs fan is a bit like Linus on Halloween. Each spring the fan waits not for the Great Pumpkin but for the Stanley Cup to come to Toronto. Like Linus's, his is an enduring hope—the Leafs last won the Cup in 1967—and for the past several years it has hinged upon the play of a 6' 4", 220-pound center with a jack-o'-lantern face. Mats Sundin's wide brow and jagged teeth have lately been complemented by a pair of scabbed lips, which were bloodied during the Maple Leafs' sweep of the favored Senators in Round 1. "There are high expectations in Toronto, and a lot of responsibility falls on me," says Sundin, 30, who was the team's leading scorer in each of the last seven seasons and its captain the past three. "I welcome that."
No one, aside from goalie Curtis Joseph, who had two shutouts against Ottawa, was more responsible for Toronto's triumph. Playing a robust game, Sundin tied for the Leafs' series lead with four points and two goals, averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time a game and squashed the Senators' top center, Alexei Yashin, with a thundering check Sundin's overtime goal won the opener 1-0, set the tone for Toronto's play for the rest of the series and led linemate Steve Thomas to say, "It's so good that he got that goal. He's under so much pressure."
The pressure comes because Sundin is the Leafs' highest-paid player ($75 million) and because Toronto tends to go as far as Sundin takes it. Last year his seven points spurred the Leafs past the Senators in the first round. When Toronto played the Devils in the second round—as it will again this year—Sundin was held to one assist, and the Leafs fell in six games. "We follow him," says enforcer Tie Domi, "and we believe in him."
Having Domi's support is crucial in Toronto, where Sundin's image suffers because he does not come from the blood-on-your-jersey mold of the beloved Maple Leafs captains who preceded him, Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark This season has been particularly trying for Sundin, who was unsettled by rumors that he would be traded for Flyers center Eric Lindros or Kings defenseman Rob Blake. Sundin's stated mission—that he wanted to finish among the NHL's top five scorers—went unfulfilled, and he wound up 38th in the league, with 74 points. Toronto struggled too, and at 37-29-11-5 barely made the playoffs.
Sundin was among the most intense players at practice last Saturday, and at one point he barked at a teammate who had made a sloppy pass during a drill. "It's been a roller-coaster season for me, and now is the time to make it better," Sundin said after the workout "Ifs O.K. that I have critics. They want us to win the Cup, and they expect me to help deliver it. I expect that too."
Van Hellemond in Charge
Keeping the Officials in Line
A week into his first postseason as the league's supervisor of officials, Andy Van Hellemond was surveying his charges' regular-season grades. "Here's an A, an A, a C. Hmm, pretty good," said Van Hellemond, comparing an official who was still working during the playoffs with another who didn't make the cut. "There's a C, A, C, E. Not as good." (Referees and linesmen were graded during each exhibition and regular-season match by one of the eight game supervisors, who awarded an A for an excellent game, a C for an acceptable one and an E for one with numerous errors; there are no B's and D's in the grading system. In all, the officials received 934 As, 1,431 C's and 229 E's.)
After a 25-year career as a top NHL referee, Van Hellemond now makes the call as to who makes the calls. For the first round he used 20 of the league's 32 full-time referees, and he'll reduce the number to 14, then 10, then five in succeeding rounds. He's following a similar process for the 35 linesmen.
This season Van Hellemond, 53, has given laptops to each on-ice official, and every morning he e-mails refs and linesmen 10-second clips of missed offsides and overlooked slashes as well as correctly called plays. Though Van Hellemond often pairs a younger referee with a more experienced one, he assigned veterans Terry Gregson and Dan Marouelli to Game 4 of the volatile Oilers-Stars series, during which Edmonton center Doug Weight received a merited game misconduct for hitting Richard Matvichuk from behind. As usual, not all officials were saluted by teams. During the Avalanche's sweep of the Canucks, Vancouver coach Marc Crawford was fined $15,000 for his derogatory remarks about referees Mark Faucette and Mick McGeough following Game 3.