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He spent eight consecutive years behind the bench of the same team, making him one of the longest-serving coaches in professional hockey. But the coach of the Calder Cup-bound Chicago Wolves is also known for the hamburger chain he launched during his playing days with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It still bears his name.

Perhaps if things had unfolded differently in the life of John Anderson, he might be a burger baron along the lines of Ron Joyce, the founder of Tim Hortons, who received a 12.5-per-cent stake of Wendy's International when he sold the doughnut chain to the fast-food multinational years ago.

Curiously, Anderson knows Joyce ("I've golfed with him quite a few times and went for a ride in his helicopter last year"), but doesn't much lament the business opportunity that passed him by.

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"Things change in life," Anderson said, "and there came a point when we would have had to sink a lot of money into [John Anderson Charcoal Broiled Hamburgers]to make it grow. I was still playing for the Leafs at the time and making probably $120,000 a year.

"Think about what a million dollars meant at that time, which is what it would have cost to get everything going. It was mind-boggling, really. I was so young. I was probably only about 24 years old at the time."

Anderson says he got into the burger business as a "fun thing" for a minimal investment of $3,000.

"I know, the very first day we opened the first store, some of the Leafs came by and we actually ran out of burgers," he remembered. "I had to go to a competitor's and buy burgers just to keep going. We had no idea what we were getting into.

"I started off with an 800-square-foot store right in the area where I grew up [Victoria Park and Van Horne] What happened was, we ended up selling it and building another one, in attempts to franchise them. It's funny looking back on it because it was a very difficult time. There was a recession in Canada. But we managed to keep them all going. Then my partner got very sick at one point.

"I don't own it any more. I sold it years ago when I got traded out of Toronto. But there's still probably seven or eight of them still around."

Anderson occasionally drops by when he gets back to Toronto in the summers, but he is a Chicago resident now, landing there two years after his professional playing career ended.

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The Leafs' first choice, 11th overall, in the 1977 draft played 814 National Hockey League games with Toronto, Quebec and Hartford before finishing up his playing career with four years of minor-professional hockey. From there, he began his coaching career at Winston Salem, moved to Quad Cities and then started his successful run with the Wolves in 1997.

"It doesn't seem that long," Anderson said, explaining that his longevity has to do mostly with following the first rule of coaching -- just win.

"It's probably the fact that we've been able to field a really strong team every year. Coaching's hard to stay in one spot a long time, but to do it eight years in a row -- and have a winning team eight years in a row -- is very difficult. But we've managed to figure it out a little bit."

The list of coaches who have won championships in the minors reads like a who's who of current and former National Hockey League bench jockeys. From John Tortorella (Tampa) and Bob Hartley (Atlanta), who won Stanley Cups within the past four years, to Peter Laviolette, Barry Trotz, Mike Keenan and, if you go far enough back, Al MacNeil, Fred Shero, Billy Reay, Howie Meeker and King Clancy.

Not only has Anderson won both the Turner Cup and the Calder Cup as a coach, he was also the American Hockey League's most valuable player in 1992, with New Haven.

"The reason I kept playing in the minor leagues was because of my ego," Anderson said, frankly. "I still thought I could play in the National League. I got caught in an era where, at 31 or 32, everybody thought you were dead. Now, obviously, guys play until they're 40. I played until I was 37. I could have played in the National League as a third- or fourth-liner. The minors? My biggest fear, when I went there, was that I had to ride the bus and I found it wasn't so bad.

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"But to win another championship? Every year here is different because you always have eight or nine new players. Every championship takes on a flavour of its own. To win another would be just as exciting as the first, I'm sure -- if we can do it."

eduhatschek@globeandmail.ca

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