The Toronto Maple Leafs' game production crew has often had their pre-game ceremonies compared unfavourably with franchises like the Montreal Canadiens. However, last night, prior to the beginning of their first preseason game against the Ottawa Senators the tribute video honouring the memories of former Maple Leafs Alexander Karpovtsev, Igor Korolev, and Wade Belak hit the absolute right note.
Korolev was laid to rest in his adopted home of Toronto on Sunday and was remembered with any number of admirable traits including his role as a team leader by which he had a massive impact on the team's young Russian players:
Korolev adapted quickly to the North American lifestyle, eventually settling in Toronto, where his children were raised, and becoming a Canadian citizen. The Moscow native made sure to pass along his wisdom to any young Russians in his wake. Two of them, Nikolai Kulemin of the Maple Leafs and Nik Antropov, a former Leaf now with the Winnipeg Jets, paid their respects on Sunday.
Wade Belak is seen in the video as everyone seems to remember him: smiling. The video also included the moment when I feel Leaf fans truly fell for the gentle giant:
I would mark this as the turning point in Leafs fans' relationship with Wade Belak. When he was a utility player under Pat Quinn the sense was that he was not a good defender nor a useful forward. Quinn's assertion that he was the team's best skater was met with a laugh. Then noted scumbag Cam Janssen laid a vicious headshot on Tomas Kaberle. At the next meeting Belak bellowed for Janssen from the bench early in the game and exacted the frontier justice that Leafs fans were baying to see. It seemed that Leafs fans notably took a shine to him afterwards.
Alexander Karpovtsev had a short stint in Toronto but he had a big impact on the Leafs: aside from two solid years he was the key to bringing Bryan McCabe. He eventually left the NHL tagged with many of the typical epithets that get attached to Russian players but was looking to embark on a new career as an assistant coach under Brad McCrimmon alongside Igor Korolev. His New York Ranger teammates especially remembered him fondly:
An assistant coach for Yaroslavl, Karpovtsev was described first as "fun-loving" yesterday by former Rangers teammates Messier, Wayne Gretzky and Bruce Driver, all of whom remembered him fondly. "He was one of those guys who got along with everybody," Gretzky said. "I can't recall a single controversy or problem involving him or anybody on our team."