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|2 ноября 2007 года.
Maple Leafs giving Antropov an 'A' for effort // Toronto Star
Nik Antropov will have an “A” on his jersey tonight against the Devils.
Only Mats Sundin and Tomas Kaberle have been a Maple Leaf longer than Nik Antropov.
So if it comes as a surprise to anyone that the oft-jeered, oft-hurt, 6-foot-6 Kazakh is wearing the alternate captain's "A" in Bryan McCabe's absence, well, it really shouldn't.
Antropov isn't jeered this season. He isn't hurt, either. And he's off to the best start of his career, with eight goals and seven assists while centring the second line.
"Other than our captain, I think he's been our best player," said Leaf coach Paul Maurice on his reasoning behind giving Antropov the letter. "I think performance has a lot to do with it.
"He needs to be recognized for his performance, at the same time, he's a pretty well liked guy in that locker room. He seemed like a natural fit for it."
The "A" truly is for Antropov. With the Leafs – great one night, horrible the next – on such a roller coaster this season, there might not be a more fitting athlete to wear it. Antropov's career has ever been thus: Fabulous talent. Injury. Come back. Play well. Get injured. Come back.
The players in the room know what he's gone through, with surgery on both knees, and respect him for it.
"He's always given his all. Nik's a great leader," said centre Matt Stajan. "He's not the loudest guy in the room. If you watch him on the ice, the way he's been playing, he controls the game.
"Everybody on this team looks at him as a leader and knows he's a key part of this team that we rely on every game."
Antropov has developed a low-key, even bland response to questions about his play, his injuries and the jeering he's received over the seasons. But he opened up just a little more than usual when asked about wearing the "A."
"It's an honour for me, but I know it's temporary, until Bryan comes back," said Antropov. "I'm going to help as much as I can, do what I can to get guys going, say a couple of words here and there."
So what can he say to his younger teammates before the next game after they've lost focus, broken down defensively and gotten jeered at home?
"The most important part is psychology, just to get the guys going," said Antropov. "Say the right words at the right time. That's all you can do, basically. Everybody knows how to play hockey here."
The puzzling team takes its show on the road – proven to be a safe haven – for the next four games.
Tonight in New Jersey against the underachieving Devils, the Leafs can hope to put behind them a week in which they were blown out at home, had the coach take the blame, and had the team president say publicly that the jobs of GM John Ferguson and coach Maurice's are safe, for now.
Having Antropov wear the "A" is not the cure for what ails this team.
"Individually, your responsible for having yourself ready, and making sure you come into the game with confidence," said Stajan. "You can't let things bother you. Guys step up and say stuff. But ultimately it's up to the individual to be ready. We owe that to each other to be ready if we're going to be a good hockey team every night."