Hockey Day turns into Sundin's night
Toronto Maple Leafs legend Mats Sundin (C) drops the ceremonial puck on the night his #13 banner was raised to the ceiling prior to a National Hockey League game. AFP photoIt may have been Hockey Day in Canada but the night belonged to a big strapping Swede as former-Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin saw his number raised to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre with a thundering wave of affection.
The love Toronto fans showered on the stoic Swede on Feb. 11 was not always as forthcoming during 13 seasons as a Maple Leaf but the ovation was as sincere as the city’s Stanley Cup dreams as Sundin’s number 13 floated to the roof to hang alongside other greats like fellow Swede Borje Salming.
Reserved and painfully private, Sundin rarely displayed emotion during what is sure to be a Hall of Fame career and true to form remained composed and in control throughout a moving tribute prior to the 712th meeting between Original Six rivals Toronto and Montreal Canadiens.
Sundin’s play often said more than he ever shared with the public or media about himself but the Swede offered a small glimpse of what makes him tick with a heartfelt thank you as he accepted one of hockey’s highest honors.
“The number one thing I miss being retired and not living in Toronto is the people of Toronto,” Sundin told the capacity crowd. “I was very fortunate to get a chance to wear the blue and white for 13 seasons.
“Fortunate to live my childhood dream playing the sport I love in the hockey capital of the world.”
A durable and rugged centre, Sundin rarely missed a game, a-point-a-night performer during an 18-year career that was launched when the Quebec Nordiques made him the number one overall pick in the 1989 draft and ended in 2009 after one season in Vancouver. Traded to Toronto in 1994, Sundin rewarded fans with 12 seasons of 70 or more points but his loyalty was tested in 2008 when the rebuilding Leafs tried to trade away their captain to a Stanley Cup contender.
With a no trade clause to block any move, Sundin resisted, insisting winning the Cup as a rental player would not bring him the satisfaction he would feel accomplishing the same with the team he had toiled for over a decade.
“I’m not sure (about the fans) but his hockey peers appreciated him,” Cliff Fletcher, the Toronto general manager who engineered the blockbuster trade with Quebec that brought Sundin to Toronto, in June 1994, told Reuters. “He maybe didn’t have that flash-and-dash other players had but he was a very, very effective hockey player. He was so consistently good game in, game out.”