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Kudos to #13 Mats Sundin

February 13, 2012

Yesterday was the 12th Hockey Day in Canada (HDIC) on CBC.  All 7 Canadian-based teams were in action and festivities were conducted across the country to celebrate our favourite sport.  The day was hosted by Ron McLean from various sites in Prince Edward Island (PEI) with satellite sites: Windsor, NS; Montreal, QC; Thunder Bay, ON; Winnipeg, MB; Prince Albert, SK and Richmond, BC.

CBC televised a triple-header consisting of the Edmonton Oiler vs Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames. The Winnipeg Jets visited Pittsburgh as the odd team out playing an American-based team.  The games were interspersed with commentary from the satellite sites with guests such as Henry Staal, father of the brothers Eric (Carolina Hurricanes), Marc (New York Rangers), and Jordan (Pittsburgh Penguins) – all of whom star for their respective NHL teams. The youngest Staal brother, Jared is currently playing for the AHL Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes).  An interview with native islander Errol Thompson (former Leaf and Detroit Red Wing) was especially interesting.

Reuters/Fred Thornhill

The prime moment of this day for Leafs fans everywhere, was the banner-raising ceremony for former Leafs captain, Mats Sundin.  A classier player has yet to suit up in the blue and white since Sundin left.  A fanbase devastated by the trade for Sundin, was skeptical about how the young Swede could possibly replace the man he was traded for – fan favourite and captain, Wendel Clark.  Where Clark was the epitome of a Canadian player, both hard-nosed tough and goal-scorer wrapped up in one, Sundin was elegant and immensely skilled.  Yet, over the years, Mats was able to win over the fans with the one ability he and Clark had in common. The ability to lift his team on his back and win by sheer willpower.

While Wendel would bull his way to the net, fight whomever he thought necessary or simply blast the puck through the goalie, Mats would gather up the puck, weave his way through half the opposing team and score an amazing backhand. Sundin would score 15 regular-season overtime winners in his career.  One of the most memorable moments in recent Leaf history was his 500th career goal, scored against the Calgary Flames on a short-handed rush in overtime, of course. What a way to reach a milestone as the first Swedish player to reach 500.

Mats wouldn’t receive the same blind adulation from many of Leafs Nation that Wendel or Dougie Gilmour had in the years before he became captain. Some of this is truly due to the fact that he wasn’t Canadian and he didn’t seem to have that same ‘tough as nails’ persona. But for sheer skill and ability, there isn’t one fan out there that wouldn’t want Sundin on their team.

Sundin would end his career with Toronto on a somewhat sour note, leaving via free agency only to sit out half of the 2008/09 season before signing with the Vancouver Canucks.  Many Leafs fans were upset that he hadn’t waived his no-trade clause in the year before, so that the Leafs, with few tradeable commodities at the time, could trade the coveted star and reap a windfall of draft picks, prospects or additional players.  No one appeared to understand that once given, a no-trade clause is something to be honoured by those with honour.

Mats never asked to be traded during his last few seasons when the Leafs were in turmoil and losing seemed a forgone conclusion. He stuck with the team because he truly believed they could make the playoffs with him there, that he could be of more use as a player than as trade bait.  He chose to leave on his terms – terms that the ownership had granted him due to his more than capable services rendered.

Reuters/Hans Deryk

Although he did not retire as a Maple Leaf, the ovations with which he was received when he returned as a Canuck and again last night when the Leafs retired his jersey, leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that he will always be a Maple Leaf.  The speech he made brought tears to many an eye and there were cheers for the fond memories that were brought to mind during the video tribute (although the music was less than impressive).  My own memory of Mats Sundin is that of the moment after every goal he scored, when he flashed that amazing ear to ear smile – for the sheer joy of the game.

Despite not leading them to the Stanley Cup, Mats Sundin retired as the Maple Leafs overall scoring leader (984/1349) and goals leader (420/564), having represented the Leafs at the annual All-Star Game 8 times. In his speech, Mats thanked the fans for all their support – well we thank you, Mats, for the 13 years of  priceless memories you provided us.

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