TORONTO – Mats Sundin feels like he’s arrived back home.
The Vancouver Canucks forward was back at Air Canada Centre on Saturday morning and indicated that he was looking forward to facing his former team. It’s the first time Sundin had visited the building since officially parting ways with the Maple Leafs.
“To me, it’s been a nice feeling coming back here,” he said. “When we landed yesterday, it feels like coming home. Coming around the rink, it’s a familiar feeling.”
Sundin’s return made Saturday night’s game the most hyped of the season in Toronto. The rebuilding Maple Leafs aren’t in a playoff race and won’t be playing meaningful games down the stretch as a result.
How Sundin will be received by the fans has been a point of debate in the city. It’s not something the big Swede is concerned about.
“I have no regrets,” said Sundin. “I’m very proud I had the chance to represent the Toronto Maple Leafs for 13 years. It’s one of the great franchises of hockey. Living in the city of Toronto and my experience with all the Toronto fans has been outstanding for all my years.
“Whatever happens tonight is not going to change my outlook of what my experience with the Leafs (was).”
Several of his former teammates have encouraged the fans to applaud him.
“Mats is a hockey icon in Toronto,” said Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph. “He was always there to answer the bell. He’s just a great teammate and a great guy. I hope he gets a standing ovation and we win the game.”
Sundin is the Leafs franchise leader in both goals and points.
The 39-year-old considered retirement for several months before eventually signing with Vancouver in December. Heading into Saturday night’s game, Sundin has six goals and 12 points in 17 games with the Canucks.
Even after playing 1,322 regular-season games during his NHL career, he admitted that this one will probably feel a little different.
“Any time I think you’re playing a team where you played before is going to be a special type of atmosphere and you get a little nervous,” said Sundin. “Especially coming back here. I have a lot of great memories of living in the city and I still consider it a place where I live.”
Sundin looked a little sheepish when he saw the crowd of cameras waiting for him as he left the team’s dressing room to head to the ice for the morning skate. When he answered questions about an hour later, he said that all of the attention just showed how much hockey means to Canadians and fans of the Maple Leafs.
All and all, he seemed to be enjoying himself.
Taking a place in the visitors dressing didn’t feel all that strange either.
“I’ve been in there before so it wasn’t that bad actually,” said Sundin.