The NHL's leading scorer is preternaturally bashful and conspicuously nifty right wing Phil Kessel. He hails from Madison, Wis., and he plays in the epicenter of Canadian—if not world—hockey, Toronto. This would be nothing more than a statement of fact if there were not more than a few long-suffering Maple Leafs fans (the franchise has not won a Stanley Cup since 1967) that view it as a statement of principle.
There are seven U.S.-born players among the 23 on the roster of Canada's Team, which proudly wears the national symbol on its sweater. That's higher than the percentage of Americans currently in the NHL—20.4%—but the number looms even larger because of their relative importance to the club. The streaky Kessel (above), who had 10 goals and eight assists through the Leafs' 3--2 loss to the Senators on Sunday, is blossoming into a star. Jake Gardiner, 21, a 2008 first-round pick, is a gilt-edged rookie defenseman. Center David Steckel ranks second in face-off percentage.
Steckel was one of three American off-season acquisitions by Toronto general manager Brian Burke, who hails from Edina, Minn., and who also was the G.M. of the silver-medal-winning 2010 U.S. Olympic team. The Maple Leafs' coach is Ron Wilson, Burke's button-pusher at the Olympics. In June, Burke hired two American assistant coaches: Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon, who was on Wilson's Olympic staff. Like many in the cross-pollinated hockey universe, Burke (previously the G.M. in Hartford, Vancouver and Anaheim) and Wilson (who was born in Windsor, Ont., but holds dual citizenship in the U.S.) comfortably work both sides of the border. But in Toronto, some fans' snide references to "Team USA" grate.
In an e-mail last week Burke growled to SI, "I have added Canadians: Dion [Phaneuf, the captain], [Clarke] MacArthur, [Matt] Frattin, [Cody] Franson, [ex-Leaf François] Beauchemin, [Joffrey] Lupul, [Colton] Orr ... and everyone talks about the Americans! I don't care where they're born. Looking for hockey players. Period."
Those who decry the Americanization of the Maple Leafs should look deeper than the hometowns of the G.M., the head coach and the club's top scorer. If you take a NAFTA-esque view, Toronto, which has four Europeans, seems closest in design to Burke's 2007 Cup-winning Ducks, whose roster had a fabulous Finnish scorer (Teemu Selanne), a third-line Swedish center (Sami Pahlsson) and a Russian backup goalie (Ilya Bryzgalov). There were 18 Canadians and only six Yanks in Anaheim. If Burke tilts anywhere, it is toward North Americans and not Americans.
To those flag-waving Torontonians: Oh, say, can't you see that?