So, what are they going to do?
And, does he care one way or the other?
Basically, those are the two big questions as Mats Sundin prepares to skate into Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Saturday night to face the Maple Leafs, the team he captained for the past decade. As a kicker, the game is featured on Hockey Night in Canada; in fact, it just happens to be Hockey Day in Canada on Saturday, so CBC will be showing hockey all day long and you can bet the Sundin situation will be discussed once or twice or every 13 minutes or so, to pick a nice round number.
What are Leafs fans going to do? How will they react?
Well, last month they booed longtime Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe when he returned as a Florida Panther. (McCabe exacted his revenge by scoring the overtime winner on a vintage slapshot; Canucks fans – and Sundin himself – would surely be plenty pleased with a similar outcome.) But McCabe, while a central Leafs figure for several seasons, never captured the city’s imagination the way Sundin did. McCabe was never ‘The Captain’ like Sundin. And, of course, McCabe didn’t have the big Swede’s elite skill set. Sundin also carries himself with a grace and dignity that few other NHLers can match; he’s sort of like Stockholm’s 21st-century answer to Jean Beliveau.
Sundin’s a class act and was the heartbeat of the Maple Leafs for 13 seasons.
If Leafs fans don’t stand up and cheer – and cheer and cheer – they should go home and take a long look in their expensive mirrors. Sundin deserves a rowdy welcome and righteous send-off from the team and city he ruled supreme for so long. Anything less would be Harold Ballard bad. (In other words, pretty bad.)
And what about Sundin? Where’s his heart in all of this?
True to his nature, he’s saying all of the right things without really saying much at all. Yes, he’s looking forward to the game and returning to Toronto. Yes, he loved his 13 seasons with the Leafs. And, yes, it figures to be an emotional night.
But good luck trying to sucker Sundin into letting loose with a juicy quote; it just isn’t going to happen. He’s too guarded with his emotions in public and has been too professional for too long to start shooting off at the mouth now.
Obviously, he’d like to get a warm welcome – raucous, even – because, as mentioned, he was the Leafs’ biggest star and most important player for as many seasons as the number he wears on his back. And considering he also carried the Leafs on his back for such a long time, here’s hoping he gets a few pats there, too.
This column also appears in the Vancouver Metro newspaper.
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