TORONTO – Mats Sundin is ready to take his place with other Toronto Maple Leafs legends in the rafters at Air Canada Centre.
Midway through the first period of Toronto’s 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Maple Leafs announced Sundin will have his No. 13 raised to the rafters on Feb. 11.
It’s been nearly four years since Sundin last wore a Leafs jersey, but the 19,526 in attendance let him know how revered he remains in the city. Fans gave the former Leafs captain a standing ovation that lasted the entire TV time out.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Sundin, now 40. “Once you retire you get a chance to reflect more on your career, where you’ve played and what it meant to yourself.
“To get a chance to represent the Leafs for all the years that I did and play in a city like this, it’s a huge honour.”
A smiling Sundin looked overwhelmed by the crowd’s reception after the announcement.
“To be recognized in that way, you’re never going to feel like you deserve it,” he said. “I’m just happy to be mentioned in the same breath as Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and all these great legends of the game of hockey.”
Sundin will be the 18th player to have a banner raised in his honour by the Leafs. Only Bill Barilko’s No. 5 and Ace Bailey’s No. 6 are officially retired. The rest of the numbers can still be worn by current players, though no one has donned No. 13 since Sundin.
He left the Leafs as a free agent after the 2007-08 season and played one more season with the Vancouver Canucks before retiring. He remains the Leafs’ all-time leader in goals with 420 and points with 987 in 981 games.
When he became a Leaf after being traded for Wendel Clark at the 1994 draft, Sundin didn’t know what to expect coming to hockey-mad Toronto.
“It took me a while to get used to that,” he said. “Coming to a city where people care about the game and everybody’s involved, it’s something I enjoyed. It’s great to be in a city where people really care about your team.”
“It’s tough to explain to people. You have to come here to see it. You can’t explain it to people in Sweden or anywhere else in the hockey world. You have to come here and live it.”
Sundin now lives in Sweden with his wife, but he still considers Toronto his second home.
“It’s like coming home every time and that’s not going to change. I’m just happy to have this great ending. It’s been such a big part of my life and to have my relationship with the Leafs and this city, for the rest of my life, it’s going to be something I’ll cherish for sure.”
Sundin accomplished a lot in his career, including winning 2006 Olympic gold for Sweden, but he was never able to bring that elusive Stanley Cup to Toronto.
“I played almost 20 years and made it to the conference finals twice, but of course you want to win the Stanley Cup,” said Sundin, who had 70 points in 77 playoff games for the Buds. “But saying that, my career has given me so much.
“The two runs in the conference finals (1999 and 2002)—those were great memories. But any time in the playoffs, here, it’s the only city where you win one playoff game in the first round and everyone is celebrating like you’d just won the Stanley Cup. It’s something else and it’s very special. I don’t think you get that anywhere else in the world.”
Sundin will watch his jersey go up with the other Leafs greats before a game against the Montreal Canadiens. He chose the No. 13 because Joe Sakic had 19 when Sundin was drafted to the Quebec Nordiques first overall in 1989. He went back to the number he wore in junior, 13. He was also born Feb. 13.
“Everything I have I have to thank the people of Toronto, the fans and the franchise.”