TORONTO – Mats Sundin says it would have felt strange to win the Stanley Cup anywhere but Toronto.
Criticized in many circles for refusing to waive a no-trade clause as his career with the Maple Leafs wound down in 2008, Sundin still maintains all he ever wanted to do was bring a championship to what he calls his “second home.”
“My strength and maybe my weakness is that I’m a loyal guy,” the former Leafs captain said Friday. “I felt that you spend so much time in an organization and in Toronto, I always saw myself winning the Stanley Cup in Toronto.
“I wanted to do that and also (realized) it would never feel the same doing it somewhere else.”
Sundin, who joined the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent midway through the following season before retiring, says his biggest accomplishment as a player was winning Olympic gold in 2006.
Still, he was never interested in being a rental player just for the chance win a Cup with another team.
“When you’re 22 or 23, it’s about winning the championship,” he said. “As you grow older you enjoy the journey, the travel and the grind of getting together a group of guys in the fall and build up to a goal in the spring. (That) was the thing that was great, the long-term commitment.”
The 40-year-old Sundin was at the University of Toronto on Friday to announce he’s donating more than $300,000 to establish a scientific exchange program between the school and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.
He’s in Toronto this week because the Leafs are set to honour his No. 13 jersey before Saturday night’s home game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Sundin, who now makes his home in Stockholm, returned to Toronto with the Canucks in February 2009 and received a warm reception from fans at Air Canada Centre.
Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson estimates that Sundin is in the top-three favourite players in Sweden with Borje Salming and Peter Forsberg.
“Everyone loves him back home,” Gunnarsson said. “Winning the Olympics was huge.”
Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson remembers watching Sundin when he was growing up in Sweden.
“I could see games because he was one of the greatest. Toronto was one of the teams that we liked to see in Sweden, they showed a lot of games from Toronto,” Gustavsson said. “But it’s tough to realize how big he is … before you actually come over here and you hear everybody talking about him.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s a cab driver from India, he knows two Swedish guys—that’s Salming and Sundin. That’s the biggest conversation that I’ve had with the cab drivers. It’s always about them.”
Darryl Boyce is the only current member of the Leafs to have played with Sundin after making his NHL debut with the club back in 2008.
“It’s a pretty big thrill for me looking back now. He’s sort of a bigger than life character now that he’s away from the game (because) of all that he did for the city of Toronto and the Toronto Maple Leafs,” said Boyce, who played just one game with the Leafs that year before getting injured. “(He was) not so much a vocal leader, but when stuff needed to be done he took it upon himself and did it on the ice.
“That sort of quiet, silent leader in the dressing room.”
The money announced Friday will support two fellowships at the labs where scientists are probing how maternal health and early life experiences determine a child’s future.
“Elite athletes and elite scientists have a lot in common. Both have a great drive to achieve their goal, both work hard every day trying to get better and both are in very tough competition with and against hard-working competitors,” Sundin said. “This program supports scientists trying to understand the importance of the first 2,000 days of our lives and how they will affect us the rest of our lives.”
Sundin, who registered 564 goals and 785 assists in 1,346 games over 18 seasons, hopes to keep the fellowship going for years to come.
“When you visit a place like Sick Kids hospital, you meet the kids who are permanently ill or going through tough times, you want to reach out an help back,” Sundin said. “The Leafs have taught me to look for things like that.”